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On the Curating Degree Zero Archive

Barnaby Drabble in response to questions from the 17th Session of the Ecole du Magasin.

Over the years since its conception in 2003, the archive has been the focus of several articles, interviews and online discussions. In these Dorothee Richter and myself, as co-initiators and organisers of the archive, have often found ourselves discussing the issues of access to documentation of practice in relation to contemporary art curating, its fragmented history and possible futures.

It is perhaps interesting for your readers to have a look at some of these, as they form a background to my answers to the specialist questions you have addressed to us.

Critical Curating – A discussion hosted by Discordia, with contributions from Stella Rollig, Ryan Griffiths, Geert Lovink, Paula Roush & Aileen Derieg, 2003

Curating is Not Enough - An interview with Simona Nastac Idea – arts+society – #21, 2005.
http://www.idea.ro/revista/index.php ?nv=1&go=2&mg=53&ch=153&ar=582

On Independent Curating - an online conversation between Cecilia Canziani, Benedetta di Loreto, Daniele Balit (curating.it), A Constructed World, Barnaby Drabble and Dorothee Ritcher (Curating Degree Zero Archive), 2007


17th Session : By definition, an archive only exists by being used. Here, it depends on its exhibition, which definition itself is extended to symposium, debate, etc. The archive therefore both documents and exists through independent curatorial practices. How did you foresee this entanglement ?

Barnaby Drabble : I like the idea that ‘an archive only exists by being used’ but fear that traditionally the connection between archives and their use value is more tenuous than you claim. The scientific impulse of the archivist is one of gathering knowledge within particular criteria. This is usually data of a particular type, often records, images, or documents. Traditionally the value of such archives is understood in relation to their thoroughness, continuity and completeness ; which can be understood more as internal characteristics than those we might define as use-oriented. The setting of criteria is of extremely high importance in archiving practice. If these are vague the archivist’s work becomes difficult, as they are too frequently confronted with the question of whether something belongs in the archive or not. Traditionally then, once criteria have been set archiving is an administrative mode, less about knowledge production or mediation than about knowledge retention. For the most part, archives are created and sustained in the imagination of future use, rather than existing through their use as you propose.


Read the interview

Barnaby Drabble, independant curator, based in Zurich and Edimburg.