Diagramming the Archives exhibit, Linen Hall Library, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Sophie AUMAILLEYDiagramming the archives: Expressing new narratives of the past
by Sophie AUMAILLEY for Northern Ireland Foundation
22 September 2016

At the Linen Hall Library, the exhibition “Diagramming the Archives” presents a series of artworks reconstructing acts that inscribed the subject’s relation to the state.

Two documents have been chosen as central to the exhibition: the 1912 Covenant and Declaration at Belfast City Hall, and the 1916 Proclamation at Dublin General Post Office.

Five artists used media reconstructions to express new narratives of this past.

The exhibition tries to be participatory (incorporating documents provided by individuals) and relying on archives from the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland, Dublin Library, and the Linen Hall Library.

As part of Community Relations Week, artist Niamh McDonnell provided a tour and explained how she applied the concept of diagram in her artwork.

She emphasised how both chosen documents provided a narrative of the nation-state and the new political arrangement of the European states.

She also described the call upon people of Ireland in the 1916 Proclamation, even if they were not conscious of their belonging to a community at that time.

What the exhibition wants to challenge are the main narratives of the nation-state.

The artworks try to reshape the idea of belonging and archiving.

They address the audience differently, by the use of technology and digitisation of archives.

The tour was followed by three presentations.

Professor Marie Coleman presented an historical perspective on the archives.

She showed similarities between the 1912 and the 1916 documents, which deal with the issue of citizenship and the codes they display.

She reacted to one kinetic artwork of the exhibition by interpreting this piece of art as a reflection of the transfer of ideas to signed declarations.

She believed that the dramatic effect of the artistic piece is reproducing the theatrical impression of written agreements.

Then, Professor Agustina Martire exposed how the archives of the build environment show the expression of political power.

Through building and urban planning, different actors reflect their power and ideologies, she argued.

The Diagramming the Archives exhibition reveals how the built environment can influence people.

For example, she explained that building plans of the end of the 19th century tried to civilise people, to “perfect the individuals”, and to inscribe civic conduct.

Belfast City Hall is here an illustration of inscribing sense of power and civicness at the heart of the city, she suggested.

Professor Martire concluded by saying that archives are based on choices: what is to be remembered and what is to be forgotten.

Finally, Professor Catherine Gander exposed Jacques Derrida’s view of the archives: “as a passionate and nostalgic accumulation of memories”, whose repetitive nature gives a sense of history.

For her, archives constantly work to maintain one memory at the expense of others.

As she explained, this repetitive feverish reload of documents is embodied in the digitalised artwork of the exhibition; they are never ending, constantly reshaping memories.

Prof. Gander said that the exhibition questions the coding and decoding of history, and where diverse meanings can be raised of the archives.

She also expressed the potential danger of state control of coding the archives, leading to a particular state’s choice of history remembrance.

Archives present “open avenues for the future through our pasts”, Professor Gander concluded.

The exhibition is on display at The Linen Hall Library from 5th-30th September 2016.

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