An archive is a collection policed by archivists. An archive is a collection haunted by the rigours of integrity. An archive is, at heart, a closed institution.
An archive is usually thought to be made up of things, the objects that it is an archive of. It is the presence of these things that constitutes the archive as an archive. However, archives secretly aspire to be more than just this lump of things access and use come to matter. To be usable the things in an archive need to be thought of as empty or mute so that they can come to be used. That is, a minimal amount of constraining context is provided, always loosely, so that the things in the archive can more easily be placed in other contexts. This is not what has happened online.
Things in an archive could have any number of possible relations to other things and those that are deemed to matter (whether historical, political, social, cultural, contextual or merely contingent) will express a reduction or lessening of these relations amongst all those possible. This is Deleuze and Guattaris rhizomatic rule of n !1.
This means the attribution of relation to the things in an archive is always a reduction, not an addition, to what it could be.
Relations are of interest to archival thought because relations are, by definition, external to or outside of the things themselves. This means they are not properties of the thing, but are bought to bear upon the thing. This also suggests an archive can be thought to be less about the things it contains than about the possible relations that can be facilitated around these things.
Online the model that has developed is different to the usual conception of the archive because it is user, not artefact, centred (YouTube, Flickr, Cowbird). Here user centred means the archive is conceived of as a system to let individuals archive their practice (through their use of media which the vehicle to document practice, that it involves media is secondary not primary). This rapidly evolved into collecting, curating, cataloguing and collaborating content. Here the archive demonstrates the key networked attributes of granularity, porousness, and facets. So, can we conceive of the archive, in general, as consisting of open and flat things (a flat ontology) and the archive in itself as the system of relations it enables? Something like lego bricks? An archive as then an architecture for possible relations?
As a system of relations, and even possibly systems of systems of relations, online archives as web services are less an archive of what was than a performing of the everyday through their media traces. This also means they have qualities of the factual and the nonfiction as informal documentary trails.
For example, a system such as Cowbird offers nonfiction tableau. When each is machine connected they enter into emerging, variable and fuzzy series. These series are not intentional in an authorial sense, at best it is a programmatic intentioning.
Platforms such as these (and they offer a compelling template for the sorts of archives that are network based) let small pieces be crafted into other things. These series that they form are not stories. At best they can be a constellation of stories, though I think that is being generous there is nothing intrinsic to these procedures to mean that they are first of all narrative. Instead, narrative is a consequence of programmatic procedures, not the other way round (so small parts can be collected from people and these can be assembled into stories, but the small parts themselves do not need to be narrative)
They are then ergodic and cybertextual assemblages. As Anderson and McFarlane argue:
Assemblage is a term often used to emphasise emergence, multiplicity and indeterminancy, and connects to a wider redefinition of the sociospatial in terms of the composition of diverse elements into varieties of provisional sociospatial formation. To be more specific, assemblages are composed of hetergeneous elements that may be human and nonhuman, organic and inorganic, technical and natural. (Anderson and McFarlane)
How can we think critically and theoretically about these sorts of things? By going sideways. Deleuze describes the cinema as a particular system of archival assemblage enginesthinking. This system of thought relies on Bergsons sensory motor schema where some things are understood to perceive, decide, and act. These perceiving things constitute themselves as a centre from which some things get noticed, and others dont, and what gets noticed becomes the source of what is decided to be acted upon, what is decided to be done. There is a gap, or interval, between what is noticed and what is decided to be done in response to this noticing, and this gap, because it introduces variability and choice in relation to what could be done, is thought of as a centre of indetermination.
In the case of the cinema this gives rise to the perception, affect, and action images. These three terms provide an elegant framework by which to understand online works as you and/or the system notices, decides, and then does. Even more so, online projects such as the living archive demand this, as what is presented on screen is literally a centre of indetermination in terms of what is to be noticed and then done.
From this we can see that narrative, interactivity, and database aesthetics are a consequence of the sensory motor schema, not its cause. Furthermore, noticing and doing fall within the realm of experience and interaction design, and as Deleuzes schema indicates, it is the distance between these terms, of noticing and doing, that comes to matter. The more closely aligned they are, the more instrumentalised the interface and the experience. The further apart they are, the greater the centre of indetermination, then the more affective the work becomes.
Affect is then about indetermination, uncertainty, and interruption, and from this we can see that systems such as the living archive aspire to be affective assemblages, and it is this that constitutes them as living systems constituted by their ability to allow new varieties and densities of relations to be formed amongst its parts.
Anderson, Ben, and Colin McFarlane. Assemblage and Geography. Area 43.2 (2011): 124 127.