IGNAZ CASSAR

444 Archives

Title: 444 Archives
Date: 2008
Media: archival boxes, gelatin silver paper, masking tape, metal shelving units
Dimensions: variable
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Archiving London’s Archives
444 Archives is an archive itself. It is an archive of archives. It explores the constitution of the concept ‘archive’ and our drive for archival preservation in the context of the photographic document. As a collection, it brings together 444 photographic records of 444 public archives in the Greater London area, thereby drawing attention to London as archive.
Common to all these archives is the fact that they are registered as public repositories in the United Kingdom and that they are located within the administrative space of Greater London. They comprise an eclectic mix of archives of varying sizes. They include art collections, libraries, public record offices, local study centres, community archives, museums, image libraries and corporate archives to name but a few.

444 Archives transforms archival collections into archival records themselves. By doing so, the artwork becomes a meta-archive that aims at classifying other archives. It introduces its own system of classification. It superimposes itself on the existing taxonomies inherent in London’s archives and engenders yet another layer of classification.

The work explores the archive as being both a system of classification and a physical site for classified documents. Being an archive in its own right, 444 Archives simultaneously images archives and archives images.

Imaging Archives

444 Archives is an installation based on photographic artwork. As the title of the work indicates, 444 Archives is a collection of 444 photographs of 444 publicly registered archives in the Greater London area. Each photograph is stored in one of the 444 archival boxes that make up the work. However, the grey cardboard archival boxes, so typical of the visual language of the archive, act in this work not solely as a protecting case for the archived record but also as a pinhole camera.

Each box contains a single, signed sheet of photographic paper. A small hole, working as an aperture, turns the box into a pinhole camera. The box/camera has two functions: it is the creator of the photographic record of the public archive (camera function); and it is the repository of the resulting image (archival function). Using the box/camera, photographic images were taken of each building housing one of the 444 public archives, thereby building up a collection of 444 photographic records.

Archiving Images

Once an archive has been ‘photographed’, the box/camera is permanently sealed. The captured image is thereby ‘condemned’ to the space of the archive. A label on each box classifies the archival record that it contains by showing the archive’s name, its location and the date of exposure. The archival box that has previously functioned as a camera, providing the ‘black box’ necessary for creating the photographic image, becomes the image’s ‘tomb’.

The photographic image becomes archived in its latent stage inside the box. The image is preserved inside the box and is thereby kept ‘alive’ for the future. At the same time, it is also negated in its visibility both as image and photographic artefact. As image, it remains undeveloped and therefore in the invisible realm of latency. As photographic artefact, it remains trapped inside the box and cannot be accessed as archival document.

444 Archives turns the archival principle of conservation against itself. While it draws up a taxonomic system like any conventional archive – the collation of 444 public London archives in the form of photographic records – it becomes subsequently the ‘trap’ of these newly gained photographs. 444 Archives arrests the photographic records. It keeps them forever inside itself. Perpetually conserved.