The Creative Repository – documenta and Its Archive

Birgit Jooss

After only two documenta exhibitions, documenta archiv was founded in 1961. From the very beginning, the exhibition makers had been willing and eager to preserve for the future the work of the past and to keep it transparent on the one hand and to supply additional documentations, collections, and publications for future exhibition work on the other. By the third documenta in 1964 at the latest, another task emerged: to keep ephemeral installations only once shown visible and alive through the archive. Only a short time later the challenge arose to document moving images, such as performances, films or presentations.

Today, digitally created records have assumed the principal role next to analogue media – file storages, network drives, websites, email accounts, databases, or SharePoints now make up the largest part of the documenta team's records. For instance, all of the work on documenta 14, which was held in two locations, was done in the cloud. Which criteria, however, are used to create file names and organisation systems?

Despite the high degree of acceptance the archive enjoys from the documenta staff, imposing rules and standards on the creative team to assure that all the archival and documentation materials newly generated every five years could be taken over in an organized state is virtually unthinkable.

This talk will present the discrepancy between creative exhibition work and standardised archive work, and the related challenges of evaluation, registration and of making available, in order to discuss potential strategies to overcome them. What is meant to be archived in the first place? What could a collaboration with a team working on a temporary basis look like? Can their creative way of working be made visible or does it have to be “tamed”? These and other aspects will be brought up in this talk.