The “Archival Impulse” in VALIE EXPORT's Artistic Research

Sabine Folie

Hal Foster writes that an “archival impulse” has been at work as a basic motive in many artistic approaches since the 1960s. Not only is equal importance regularly given in them to the process that is depicted in notes, sketches and designs in archives, but as a principle, the archive of images itself also becomes the subject of artistic practice. Artist archives are increasingly given attention to as sites of artistic research, whether as sources for the research on bodies of works or as an artistic method. So, where would the separation be drawn between an archive as a collection of documents and an archive that is constituted through the archive's – its own or that of other archives – aesthetics? And, which definition applies to the creation of an archive on VALIE EXPORT?

Apart from this finding, the talk will examine how an archive in general and the archive of VALIE EXPORT in particular can be presented in an exhibition. The dispositifs that come into effect in this exhibition shall be discussed: the fundamental impossibility to illustrate the archive is countered by drawing back, for one thing, on the “original” that becomes visible in autographs, sketches, notes, and so forth. At the same time, in order to illustrate archival contents, the “fetish” of the original object/document is brought into an overarching context by using schematised and diagrammatic image formats. Paradoxically, these figurations reinforce the evidence of what is latently hidden in the archive. While the diagram inherently brings temporal successions and the three-dimensional to a flat plane of simultaneity, the exhibition in its spatial layout makes it possible, at the same time, to physically experience the archive's underlying abstract and subliminally acting order: e.g. through the set-up of the room as a distinction between a cognitive, analytical “territory” of thinking that is expressed in reading, writing, devising, and a territory of emotive/sensory planes of artistic practice and concrete production of a piece of art. Ultimately, both aspects mirror the functions of the brain, which are superimposed on the exhibition as an imaginary grid.