response by Stefanie Lorey


Archive and Collection: Structural Narratives and Narrative Structures

Research format Performative Collection, response by Stefanie Lorey

Collecting and arranging are fundamental processes for acquiring knowledge. Formats such as (performative) collections and (living) archives are therefore well suited to visualise artistic-scientific research projects not only as practices but also as forms of presentation.1

In addition to the qualities already mentioned for Performative Collections, which legitimise the formats for the production and presentation of knowledge, I would like to focus on one essential aspect at this point: Archives and collections do not bring together isolated items in order to let them merge into something new. Rather, they trace the image of a fragmented whole, whose partial elements remain visible as individual elements. Due to their special form, archives and collections are characterised by a specific form of knowledge generation and its reception: initially as well as fundamentally, the structure of coming together remains legible; the basic corpus, if you like, or the set of rules under which objects, things, and documents were gathered.

This leads to a further insight: the individual is represented in the whole, while at the same time the individual always stands for the whole; as pars pro toto, which also includes a totum pro parte. This special interrelationship between the collection and its partial elements is only possible because the individual neither disappears in the whole nor is it dissolved in it, but instead it remains visible as a singular entity.

In other words: The knowledge produced by the collection and the archive is anchored in each individual part and legitimates itself through its multiplicity. Consequently, the individual segments not only serve to shape an overall form, they also retain a value that allows them to speak for the whole as well as for the singular.

In addition to its form-giving serial character, the narrative system also shows itself to be a series of fragmented representations that remain fragmentary and have both content-related and formal impact, in that their partial elements relate to each other at both the narrative and the structural level. Form and content are thus closely correlated, since they are mutually dependent.

Their strong interrelation in turn always opens up two aesthetic approaches to the audience. Either a narration comes to the fore as an overarching narrative that connects individual elements with one another, or the structure, in the sense of a rhythmisation of narrative partial elements, is at the forefront of perception, which, away from content, leads to an attention to things in their materiality. From this point of view, collections and archives can be read both as structural narratives and narrative structures, depending on which perspective is taken or seems more accessible.

In addition to these two processes of reception, which either promote the formal or the content without negating the other, a third quality emerges: the structure of a dissected whole creates gaps into which the recipients inscribe themselves with their own knowledge and, consequently, the archive and collection can be further enriched or updated: as a possibility of a collective generation of knowledge.


1 In addition to the artistic formats mentioned in Performative Collections, I would expand the scope to include performances, choreographies, compositions and films.