New Archivists

What would (the future) of such a live archive be like, in which the role and perhaps the function of an archivist are subject to change? Marloes de Valk and Aymeric Mansoux, together with Amber and Dave Griffiths, worked on a pilot project to provide an answer to this question. Rather than creating a new archival system, or even looking into the future, they developed a game: What Remains. Taking the media archaeological trend as a topic and means, the game is created from excavated parts, exclusively developed for a late 1980s popular 8-bit video game console (the Nintendo Entertainment System and Nintendo Famicom consoles), and made available as a physical cartridge as well as a public domain file download to experience on emulators. As the game progresses it turns into an increasingly confronting image of our world, questioning the value and purpose of the so-called digital culture, and what will remain of it.

The artists decided to focus on the obsession with collecting, documenting, archiving, processing and interpreting anything that can be sampled and captured by machines. The game follows the premise that digital data amplify the hoarding side of consumerism by a tech industry eager to provide the necessary apparatus to orchestrate, control, and ultimately generate profit from such digital gluttony. Uncovering the shadows and consequences of the economically driven strategies, the games shows the hidden costs of this pathway: the environmental impact of the cloud and its gazillion connected things; the new forms of labour exploitation and organisation in electronics manufacturing; reducing education to the creation of armies of uncritical computer operators; the struggle of public knowledge repositories confronted with the growing competition of profit-driven private alternatives; and the new forms of elitist denial and escapism found in all sorts of post-human utopias disconnected from reality. On a quest for a rare, unreleased game prototype that will guide the game player’s journey through different subcultures, the main protagonist progressively explores and reveals the dark side of the legacy left by the so-called digital revolution. Following this narrative, the player interacts and solve puzzles, opens up documents and reveals their content in new ways with the help of librarians, private collectors, pirates, activists, academics and independent researchers. From this perspective What Remains explores how documents acquire a new meaning in different contexts (social, legal and technical), through various relations, and can be used in different processes: or, in archival terms, how documents are part of a continuum.

In an attempt to breathe new life into archival strategies, What Remains propagates, through game play, a circular approach to archiving that embraces copying and re-use, while negotiating authority. In the process it questions what kind of archivists exist in the era of the prolific archive, distinguishing between an environmental, an artistic, a conflicted and a gaming archivist. The environmental archivist is portrayed as someone aware of the threat today’s techno-industrial complex poses to the planet, and who wants to do everything in their power to stop the further destruction of ecosystems, using traditional and proven, long-lasting and sustainable methods to archive. An artistic archivist is an anarchist whose perfectly useless, inconsumable and non-marketable systems are all free, and this freedom provides a careful and critical reflection on the world, untempered by advertising, usability, lobby groups and corporations. The conflicted archivist is determined to make knowledge accessible to all and to preserve it for future generations. In the end this archivist is caught in between the world of paper and that of silicon, the world where publishers rule content, and the one where corporations rule infrastructure, mining content ruled by no-one, generated by everyone. Finally, a gaming archivist becomes excited at the sight of 8-bit graphics and clunky but durable cartridges. This archivist is part of a lively community of enthusiasts who take care of a legacy, a part of our culture that would otherwise slowly disappear, shipped off to exotic locations as e-waste.


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