Archives for the Networked Age


My research currently looks at how archives and historical writing might be re-imagined and reshaped in the networked age.   I find of particular interest the project by Lynn Hershman Leeson and the Stanford Humanities Lab entitled, Life Squared, that exhibits some of the artist’s work online in the virtual world of Second Life.  Not only does Life Squared make the work of the artist available to the audience to walk through and explore 24/7, with a parallel opportunity to meet and discuss the work with others literally thousands of miles away from the spectator, but the digital format encourages an especially dynamic form of interactivity in which the viewer can remix the history of past analogue artifacts into a new and hybrid narrative that includes media rich materials and almost infinite reanimation possibilities.

The exhibit itself demonstrates the new mode of writing, first by its “archival” presentation of Hershman Leeson’s 1973-1974 installation piece, The Dante Hotel — a hotel room in San Francisco, left perpetually open for anyone to walk through or leave a message or artifact for later observers.  In Life Squared we now see the documentation of the installation (written descriptions of the events) remixed alongside images taken from the installation of the space itself, or materials left at the site.  Some of the documentation is “written into” the floor or ceiling of the space itself, so that the merger between text and image becomes seamless and our avatar’s presence becomes another sign at work in the hybrid site (with our own narrative and history added to the story line). 
Near the Dante “archive” is a parallel remix, which documents Hershman Lesson’s ongoing performance as Robert Breitmore (1974-1978 in analogue form, now with a Second Life avatar sometimes seen on the Life Squared site).   The proximity of the Breitmore exhibit and its format of perpetually morphing photographs documenting her past performances, enable the audience to “remix” the two exhibits themselves so that a deeper understanding of Hershman Leeson’s work both to destabilize our sense of a fixed social identity and to empower our own reconstruction or assembly of identity might be seen.

As we travel to a separate part of the exhibit, another version of the Dante Hotel appears, this time in 3D, enabling us to put together another variation of the history, the place, and our participation in it.  All of this would seem to be particularly instructive for feminist historians, who argue for multiple pathways through a time, place, and identity.
I will have more on Lynn Hershman Leeson’s work in the forthcoming collection that I edited, Reclaiming the Archive: Feminism and Film History, which includes an interview with the artist.   To find out more about the Stanford Humanities Lab and their amazing projects, 
see http://shl.stanford.edu/index.html.   For more on Lynn Hershman Leeson’s prolific career, see http://www.lynnhershman.com.

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  1. The Second Life art exhibit/remix looks fascinating. I am sad to say that I have never played Second Life, but from the images shown, I was struck by an interesting (at least to me) reversal.

    The avatar looking at the art exhibit appears as a video game character–a somewhat abstract, slightly “blocky” artistic rendering of human–while the photo of a person in the art exhibit itself appears to be “realistic” (given that it is an actual photograph). Does this reverse the typical nature of the museum visit in which “real” viewers look at abstract art?

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