Consider the stories this box might hold. Stapled cardboard is closed round it like a tatty book cover while "the role of narrative is declining, the role of the archive... increasing (to) become the dominant symbolic and cultural form." I’m not going to let you see inside it, I’m afraid. Consider me as the trustee of the box. I am your reader, your gate-keeper, choosing what to reveal. Consider the box itself, a container, containing things I see and you do not. You are imagining what it might contain, aren’t you?
I am not passive, not a museum employee, guarding this box and permitting viewings (put on the gloves, please). Just as narrative address needed redefining, to include “intradiegetic you”, this box-archive cannot be viewed as just a collection of third-person things. We, with our own constantly updating and expanding archives of recorded presence - our loyalty cards and social media accounts and online bank accounts and CCTV appearances - form identities that will outlive our physical bodies. Our life stories - or perhaps we need to start using the term life archives - will be accessible for as long as the technology which supports them exists. The box is not a life archive in this sense, though it holds a collection of things which provide evidence of a life, of a moment in a life. But then, it is not acting alone. I, on behalf of us, am acting. It is my archive (for now), which I’m sharing (at least, that’s what I’m telling you).
Consider the box as storage, like the cupboard it was found in, just an “accumulation of objects. Those objects are each complete in themselves.” Consider it as a collection, intentional, whose “objects… do not have that completeness. They only have significance in relation to each other.” Through the filter of my looking, a list begins to form, a kind of mental archiving of the contents, a taxonomy occurring from my attempts to make sense of each object in relation to its companions, resulting in “ordered structure… no longer inherent to the collection but imposed upon it,” ready to be told as a story, or several. And I tell and retell, trying out slight variations each time, judging the effect that the shifts in emphasis have on you. The systematic mention of the contents is heady when first revealed, isn’t it? And it is addictive to be the one to reveal them, fingering the rustling papers as I do, allowing momentary glimpses of documents that only mystify. I combine narratives for you, as writers combine letters of the alphabet to tell you a story, “(not) simply… a combination of letters, but a combination of signs,” a “pastime with past time.”
I divide the box’s contents into chapters: The Sand House Hotel; the greetings card; Hilda. The conventional ordering of addresses and locations creates its own alphabetical, referential story, reordering the contents. The ascending numbers, the a-z: the archival impulse of my computer preferences is an impulse not resisted, as I group and list so that my archive may be easily navigated; essential as I begin to dive into the wormholes of the web, looking for clues, adding to my list of folders, like Boltanski snipping portraits out of obituary notices. These folders are the “result of a repetition of the same syntactical function,” providing a catalogue that is then available, “like a musical score, (ready for) anyone (to) play it.”
 Alphen, E. van, (2014). Staging the Archive: Art and Photography in the Age of New Media. London: Reaktion,p.7
 DelConte, M. T., HRA (2003). ‘Who Speaks, Who Listens, Who Acts: A New Model for Understanding Narrative’, PhD thesis, Ohio State University, Columbus, USA, pp. 1-23
 Alphen, p.91
 Alphen, p.91
 Alphen, p.91
 Apolloni, A. (2017). ‘The end of the era of endings’, Eurozine, p2
 Hutcheon, L. (1988), cited by Apolloni, p.2
 Alphen, p.21
 McElroy et al. (1993) ‘Clinical and theoretical implications of a possible link between obsessive‐compulsive and impulse control disorders’, pp.121-132
 Alphen, p.94
 Boltanski, C. (1997), cited by Artspace (2017). ‘"It’s The Idea That’s Important": Christian Boltanski Thinks Art Is Like a Musical Score that Anyone Can Play’
I do not steal the box.
I ask people if they recognise it, show it to them, show them where I found it. Somehow, I know nobody will claim it. I have to open it and glance briefly through its contents in order to check that it isn’t obviously the property of someone I know, or can guess at. The contents leave little impression at first, in the flurry of questions, shrugs, suggestions and a working day.
Alone, later, I lay the contents out carefully - scanning them; choosing a starting point.
We’re going to dive in. We’re going to surface. Sometimes there will be detail, sometimes gist. Sometimes a series of threads will seem as if they are going to tie up. They won’t. The carousel will keep turning, and we’ll climb on and dive back off - sometimes sooner, sometimes later. There will be periods of focus, and periods of letting things wash over us. The voices will not all be ours. But some of them will be.
We dive now.
We are above the pub. It is my job to vacuum in the mornings. The other staff are still sleeping, but I’m up and dressed and heading over to the cupboard I’ve opened countless times before.
It’s an understairs cupboard; the type that slopes front to back, not left to right. It’s just big enough to house the vacuum cleaner, along with a few other cleaning things. A can of polish, maybe; a few rags in a bucket.
I opened the cupboard the day before, and the day before that. I’ve opened it countless times before.
I reach for the knob with my left hand (the knob is on the right hand side of the door) first pulling the door towards and then sweeping it across me in the arc that completes its opening. I reach out (about mid-arc, probably) with my right hand for the vacuum cleaner’s upright handle - the flex wrapped in a figure of eight at its back, as I left it yesterday - and wheel it towards me, my left hand still raised, maybe even still on the door, ready to close it once more. And all in a matter of a few seconds, with a little shuffling to allow for the door’s return, I should be on my way, bumping and clattering down the stairs.
But on this particular morning, I open the door as usual (left hand guiding the door on its arc across me, right hand reaching for the handle) and there’s a space. Not a big space, but more than usual, because the vacuum cleaner has been pushed back, against the back wall of the cupboard. I reach a little further, aware of the unfamiliar movement, the shifting of weight onto the front foot as I tilt ever so slightly into the cupboard.
We look down. There is a box.
Papuans removed birds' feet but kept the plumage in tact
They used them as currency
The explorers didn't know this.
Footless birds were born,
in the developed world:
Birds of Paradise.
What could be more other?
The re-prepared bird had been taxidermied.
It was cocky, cocksure:
An embodiment of museum culture
The taxidermist and I removed its feet, and made a blueprint photogram of their ghostly absence
The legs on the wallpaper rotate clockwise and anticlockwise
Between falling and flight
A gap, a translation, a mistranslation.
(based on Zac Langdon-Pole's introduction to the discussion in the video above)
Image below: Installation view of Zac Langdon-Pole at Ars-Viva-2018, Ghent
How do you make a lacquered space?
How do you make a lacquered image inside a space?
It almost makes organic forms by itself, an image without tension
The process created its own image
Like the first human mark makers in stone, in a cave
I sanded away - like geology
Creating stone realism - from lacquer
(Based on Phi Phi Oanh's introduction to the discussion in the video above)
Image: Phi Phi Oanh, Specula, 2009
In considering how the identified aims and objectives relate to a methodology, and to a theoretical framework, I've gone back to the proposal and made some clarifications, in order to edit and refine for KARST and beyond, as well as beginning to think about shaping the report.
Project proposal aims
- To practically and conceptually develop a chapter of the Ghost Box project to the point of readiness for exhibition
- To research and develop a set of thinking, making, showing and documentation strategies and skills that can represent the layered complexity of the Ghost Box as a point of departure, prompt or impetus for art making
- To contextualise this chapter in a larger context of art works and writings that draw on:
the archive and memory, narrative, dissemination and expansion
Key objectives and theoretical approaches/theorists/artists identified for research
- Obtain an overview of contemporary artists’ use of archive and found objects/memories/moments/materials (including Christian Boltanski, Louisa Fairclough, Christina Mackie, Katrina Palmer, Sophie Calle, Tricia Donnelly, Laura Reeves and Andrea Buckland)
(Mark's advice: "Think of the differences among these as much as the overlaps")
- To obtain an overview of the current thinking on the role of the archive in theoretical terms (initially using the essays in the Whitechapel publication The Archive (2006), Ghosting (2006) published by Picture This in Bristol and Van Alphen’s Staging the Archive (2014). However, I need to remain conscious that what theory may call the archive may be significantly different from someone's saved memories or souvenirs, or the act of hoarding or hiding something so as not to preserve it.
- To understand in more depth what is meant by archaeology of knowledge (Foucault) and archaeology of media (Parikka, Huhtamo), and to think about who the archaeologist is in the context of the Ghost Box.
- To begin looking at feminist theory and l’ecriture feminine, after reading Huhtamo's statement that female artists have been particularly active in the field of media archaeology, perhaps due to “the parallels between media archaeology, feminist theory, and women's history”. I will start with Laughing with Medusa (2008) for an overview. The archaeologist is not a neutral or non-person, they are embodied, they have a story and desires.
- To find a vocabulary around the role of narrative in the work, initially using Barthes’ Image Music Text (1977), Yorke’s Into the Woods (2013) and Bal’s Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative (1997). Recent feedback for the work Tin Reflection mentioned materiality vs immateriality and the narratives within it, and I will need a wider vocabulary for thinking about narrative in order to make use of this comment. In addition, I will need to specify who the storyteller is - myself, or the viewer, whoever assembled the box, whoever put the box in the place where I found it...
- To continue to seek out, encounter, collect, intervene, interpose, juxtapose and edit found objects and images which might be used in the making and showing of the work, employing a similar strategy to that which led me to the box (or it to me)
- To frame or limit this chapter so that it has a level of coherence on its own and within the larger ongoing project
The methodologies these aims & objectives call for include:
Possible discourse styles or modes:
When writing the project proposal, it seemed impossible to talk about the objectives separately from the theoretical framework that surrounds them, so I combined them under the title Objectives, and how they might inform the defining of a critical framework for Ghost Box. I’ve done the same above, and I think the report needs to be approached in the same way, using theory as part of the vocabulary that describes the work. As a result, I expect the writing to make extensive use of embedded citations that weave theory among my own words. This will echo the temporal and spatial incongruity of the Box itself, the anachronism of the objects I’m currently using to explore it, and act as an additional witness to the scavenging and treasure-hunting approach the work entails.
To further highlight the narrative strands within the project, it might be interesting to use 'chapters' in the writing as well as the making, or to use a layout that is more reminiscent of fiction than of academic writing (below). Additionally, I will look into including passages of relevant found writing, and/or some of my own image poems.
Also, I am considering making an essay film which would be an effective way of communicating the tangential nature of the project, though I doubt there’ll be time to do it for the course deadlines, so I’m thinking of it as a strategically disseminatable thing to work on after the course finishes. I imagine this as a looped film, with no identifiable beginning or ending, as “the exact parameters of the period in time that Ghost Box can be said to refer to is impossible to be sure of, but the dates on some of the contents place certain documents in a span of a few months in 1972, an evident loop of a moment which defies chronological continuation” (from my proposal)
The wedding card song is such a key aspect of the installation. In order to do its job within the whole, it needs to be melodic yet unnerving, apparently unfinished yet professional-sounding, somewhere between a jingle and a nightmare. The first recording (here) was made using a melody composed from remembered snippets of nursery rhymes and hymns, which I recorded as a single track and then played into my headphones to improvise some harmonies. I made around 12 tracks of possible harmonies, and chose two of these to layer over the original melody, using a process of trialling combinations.
Having listened to that original three-layer sketch upwards of 30 times now, I know two vital things, the first of which is that my singing voice is weak. While that may be a quality that could be exploited for other purposes, this recording needs to sound professional if it is to create the illusion of a remembered fragment that keeps returning, like an earworm. So, on the 24th I have five capable female singers meeting me to record a version. I may not need as many layers as that, but it will be good to have the choice. Secondly, the melody resolves too neatly at the end. The feeling of the song should be that it is part of something larger which has been fragmented, which does not happen when it ties up like this. So, I've spent the morning with Tom listening to him talk about why the song currently sounds like it resolves, watching him instantly find all the parts that I improvised firstly on his guitar, then translated onto a keyboard so that he could play two at a time, and working out together how to make the song end in an open way, so that the listener feels it hasn't quite completed without actually cutting off mid-phrase. As a result, I now have several versions of each vocal part to trial on the 24th. These are currently in the form of rough recordings of the keyboard, which I will translate into voice in order to communicate to the singers, as I'm not able to write musical notation. When the recordings are made, and the files layered up to create the song, I'll take the finished audio file to the engineer who is going to show me how to use the audio to lathe cut a vinyl record. The machine we'll be using is a lathe that 'hears' audio and translates it into a cut, so it is vital that the audio file is right before we start. Unlike commercial processes, where a metal template is made which many records can be pressed from, this machine will make a unique disc. Incidentally, in my talks with the people involved in getting access to the lathe, I've learnt that 'ghosting' is a term used for when the lathe 'hears' something unintended and cuts an extra sound into the vinyl. I'm sort of hoping it will happen.
Repeat constructed from features of documents and digitally scanned negatives from the box, combined with Google Earth images.
Repeats constructed from features of Google Earth images (left and right) and one of the negatives in the box, digitally developed (left and centre)