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Video Recording | Working Paper Series | Johanna Laub: Archives In/As Ruins

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Archive/Counter-Archive is delighted to share the recording of Johanna Laub's Working Papers Series talk, Archives In/As Ruins: Moving Image Art And The Anarchaeology Of Archival Debris, which took place on Tuesday, November 29, 2022. See below for Johanna's abstract, bio, and the embedded version of her talk!

In the wake of an archival and counter-archival turn, what could it entail to look at archives in/as ruins, as sites of ruination and debris? This presentation asks how moving image artists engage creatively with destroyed or neglected (audiovisual) archives, without necessarily adhering to a “recovery imperative” (Sharpe 2020, 6), and how they respond to the forms of ruination they encounter. Talking about ruined archives entails a shift of focus from the inertia of ruins towards the active process of ruination, which pertains especially to the ‘debris’ of colonial and imperial regimes (Stoler 2013). In this sense, it is not only about the forces of ruination that act upon archives, but also those that they attest to.

To think through the issues involved here, the presentation mainly centers on two films by artist Onyeka Igwe, a so-called archive (2020) and No Archive Can Restore You (2020). In both works, Igwe moves through the abandoned site of the former Nigerian Film Unit in Lagos, an organization that produced and distributed colonial films to local communities in Nigeria in the service of the British Empire. In a so-called archive, the artist further engages with the collection of the former British Commonwealth Museum, a short-lived and controversial project in Bristol, whose story and materials attest to their own form of ruination. Avoiding a restorative approach to these colonial films and a repetition of their particular gaze, Igwe stages instead a bodily, tactile encounter with the archival spaces as well as a complex soundscape, which resonates in these buildings (or ruins) as a haunting presence.

Drawing on archival theory, deconstruction, and decolonial thinking, this presentation looks to practices in moving image art that seek to unravel epistemic norms and to encounter the remains of archives through other senses and sensibilities of knowing. How do these ‘anarchaeologies’ unsettle archival debris and how are they meaningful in making history and the forces of ruination felt?

Johanna Laub is a PhD candidate in the research group “Configurations of Film” at Goethe University Frankfurt. After her bachelor and master studies in Art History at the University of Leipzig and Université de Tours, she worked as a curatorial assistant at Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt on exhibitions of modern and contemporary art. Her PhD project focuses on contemporary moving image art as a site of history production and deconstruction, where film and video challenge conventions of written historiography and develop alternative archaeological and historiographical practices. From August to December 2022, she is an academic visitor at Concordia University.