Pad.ma was presented at a conference in Cairo titled Speak, Memory in October, 2010 (http://www.speakmemory.org). The conference was on the politics of archiving and (re)activation of cultural memory, and at the conference different visions and stratagems of archiving were discussed including open or closed, institutional or radical, private or government, pirate or commons etc. Here we share four texts that elaborate on certain issues around archiving that interest us, including the problem of displaying the archive, legal edifice for archives, politics of technology and notes on collaboration.
Out-lawed or gair kanooni archiving practices
Namita A. Malhotra
When exhibition or what is pulled out of the archive seems to be overshadowing the archive, what is of interest is to talk about the craft or techne of
an archive. This in the context of Pad.ma has largely meant the software but is also to a much lesser extent, about the legal structure of an open,
An open public archive has separate and even conflicting agendas from the state archive. But it still has to exist within a broad legal structure of
the country that has not imagined or accounted for openness with respect to copyright, censorship and public access. In the modern context, the only
available model for this is the licensing model of the open source community and with respect to content, Creative Commons and other open content
(music, texts) licenses.
Any legal document is also a cultural document, it informs about the place, context, motivations, stories, ideas, concepts of what people want - and
the legal document for archives should be looked upon as a cultural-document-in-making (and the API is an insight into how the archive works and can be
used). And if as Derrida says, an archive is a pledge, a token to the future, then the license is about how to actualize the pledge.
1. Material, whether video, documents, photographs, move between meanings and narratives, belong in more than one place or in contradictory stories,
mean different things to different people. If the archive allows for the playing up of different properties of the material rather than only a fixed
meaning (within a historical, national, community's or other narrative), then it is harder for the archivists or those involved in the endeavour of
archiving to see material or image or video as fixed or as property.
A big Hollywood film is the apt example of material as property - this form of intellectual property is broken down into a bundle of rights of
exhibition, reproduction, translation, adaptation, pay per view etc. that are then licensed to different users. You do not buy a movie like you buy a
book - you buy the license to watch the movie only, not to display it to your friends, not to do a screening, not to lend it even.
A traveling library like Bidoun library for instance can do a lot more with its books than if it were a traveling exhibition of movies. Books can be
lent out, torn, burnt, destroyed - the spine can be broken and they can be exhibited page by page; they don't have to be impenetrable objects on
shelves. In terms of legality, a book bought allows for a far greater number of rights or privileges with the book, than a movie's license that is
purchased on purchasing the DVD.
The global regime of intellectual property actually works against what could be seen as a characteristic property of digital video - that it could be
an exact replica of the original or a reasonably close copy and facsimile of the original (perhaps the property is that there is no original and the
original itself is a digital copy of something). A digital object can simultaneously circulate in the art market and can also be available for
research, study, annotation, display, re-use, remix to a wider public. The Pad.ma license allows for a wide range of tools or rights, as they are
known, to be available to the user (display, make clips, search, reuse, remix). By inverting the corporate (capitalist) strategy of bundle of rights
that allows for more profit to be sucked out repeatedly from the same product, the Pad.ma license allows the user on the website to repeatedly use the
same product in multiple ways. In the current intellectual property regime, this is as they say in several parts of the world, in Hindi, Urdu and
Arabic - almost gair kannooni.
2. One of the often brought up issues with regard to legality is sensitivity of material, privacy/intimacy of moments, what such material would expose
and who and to what extent. The automatic response of state and established archives when confronted with issues of anxiety about what would happen if
such images are circulated or become public is to address it with legally binding contracts with contributors and users. Such contracts concretize via
the law what is probably the most fragile and tenuous of moments between a contributor and an archivist, if such roles are fixed. Such a legal contract
ensures that one does not have to be drawn into a conversation about the properties of the image or what it can do, mean and how much.
What is more challenging is to have these conversations, repeatedly and to be tired of them but to still engage with anxiety and to begin to understand
it, whether the filmmaker's arrogance of control over meanings of the material, the archivist's anxiety about what she is allowed to do with images
that have been given to her generously, the artist's desire to make it look good or like the art project she or he had in mind, the activist's ideal
notions of the viral and automatically public nature of the internet that would simultaneously expose the sensitive material or miraculously deliver
information and opinions to the public.
The Pad.ma license or the archive structure itself is possibly not always an adequate response to these concerns, but there is an attempt to address
them. Not all pressures can be succumbed to - but do have to be negotiated, pushed away, derided and some are absorbed.
While the state or national archive is invested in processes of making history, law and narrative, the other or alternative or non-state or
non-institutional archive becomes invested in the idea of representation and instrumental use of tools such as law and technology instead of thinking
of them as structural edifices that can be built and therefore change the rules of the game. This applies also to smaller and private archives that
seek to represent the marginalized , a project of redemption or giving voice. What then is not imagined (but may happen anyway) in the structure of the
archive, is how surprising the material can be and in what ways can it be used. What is in the archive is then for display and has fixed meanings,
rather than for use, research or curiosity. By moving out of a representational logic, the archive can then do other things - it doesn't need an
artist's practice for oppression to be revealed or playful meanings to be excavated.
The archive itself can become a space where surprising things are possible. It can escape the double bind of art that produces affect and history that
produces fact. This is not to deny the political impulse of archiving, but to place that impulse also in its structure of how we do the archive. An
archive cannot represent in entirety anything, but neither is an archive merely fragments of representations.
- Terms and Conditions for Membership to Pad.ma
- GNU General Public License
- Lawrence Liang, Guide to Open Content Licenses
- Jacques Derrida and Eric Prenowitz, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, Diacritics, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Summer, 1995), pp. 9-63. In this essay on
archives, Derrida also says- "What is at issue here, starting with the exergue, is the violence of the archive itself, as archive, as archival
violence. It is thus the first figure of an archive, because every archive … is at once institutive and conservative. Revolutionary and
traditional. An economic archive in this double sense: it keeps, it puts in reserve, it saves, but in an unnatural fashion, that is to say in making
the law (nomos) or in making people respect the law."
Exhibition and Archive
This talk will repeat some of the ideas already noted by others in this presentation. Such repetition is, we think, a good thing. It can help us refine
a point, or help our critics refine theirs. Pad.ma's workshop in Cairo was called Dont Wait for the Archive, Part 2. Which, after the
1st part in Beirut, means not waiting, again, for the archive. Or we could say: still not waiting for the archive.
So, to begin with some things that are here:
1. There does appear to be a certain contradiction in the idea of a traveling archive, or traveling library. Isn't one the main qualities of the
archive that it is a reliable location, a place that you go to when you can't find something elsewhere, something like the last
backup? If the archive came to visit us, and then left us in three months, isn't that at least a bit sad, especially if it doesn't leave anything
behind? If the library of rare books deserts us, and moves on, is this then the archive as tease... and of course the tease is a beautiful and
important thing, but is that what were doing? And doesn't this kind of activity come from art and its exhibition practices?
I'm trying to find a way here to talk about a question that I think is a question for this room, and that concerns both art and the archive more
generally. This is the conflict between forms of display or exhibition-value, and other forms of value that the archive could have. And I think some of
what we see in new archives today is a kind of perversion, or unfortunate twist at the end of the very valuable insight within contemporary art, that
artists can have something important to say or do with the archive itself, and not just individual objects within it.
There are a few ways in which this conflict has played out even in the last 6 days that I have been here in Cairo. In our visit to Cultnat (The
Egyptian Centre for Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage), in Smart Village outside Cairo, we saw an extreme case of something that Hal
Foster points to as the split that occurs in the museum, between the display function and the memory function of an object.
For those of you who haven't been to Cultnat, this is a description of one of three "showrooms" at Cultnat: a patented nine-screen panoramic projection
called Culturama. We get the sense that these types of displays, which actually the archive borrows from the museum and exhibition practices (such as
expos for example) are getting bigger and more spectacular, in an attempt to "show" the archive, which of course is growing bigger too. Some version of
this is in all of the showrooms in Cultnat; one of which has many wall-mounted monitors but no seats for researchers, and another where you wear 3d
glasses and watch old black and white pictures in a kind of reconstructed 3d immediacy... in all these you can see only a very very small selection of
the archive. And of course you cannot take it away, or really question it in any way. The archive can be glimpsed, seen, but not accessed at a deeper
In Beirut, I had written a line, as part of a "theses" on the archive, titled 'The Past of the Exhibition Threatens the Future of the Archive'. The
line was: "The challenge for the archive, which today threatens the exhibition with its own sensual ability to relink and rearticulate these two
functions [memory and display], is how not to end up as a spiral ramp, or as flea market. In other words, how to avoid the tyranny of the two
historical "freedoms": one, the (modernist) formal strategies of audience participation in the spectacle, and two, the (postmodernist) eclecticism in
which anything, included and curated, could be accorded "exhibition-value".
A few days ago, we found the spiral ramp on Cultnat's website.
(appears to have since been taken down)
And of course I don't mean this only literally, this metaphor of the ramp. And ofcourse we don't just want to just pick on Cultnat. But for people in
Cairo, I think its an important reference point, as one of the largest archives in town, and one self-defined as a high-tech digital archive, and
therefore as something to think about for the future.
So lets go back to that other metaphor, the traveling archive or library. And to use another example from around here. When you turn the book from its
edge onto its face as in the Bidoun library, this is a particular translation of an object. This is in addition to the translation achieved when these
rare and interesting books were transported from far away. But surely further translations are possible, and we have to keep pushing. Maybe pdf's can
be made, or audio recordings, or even some business can happen where books can be traded or sold. The metaphor of library or archive need not make us
all behave as if we are in dusty rooms, in enforced silence and good behaviour, all over again.
So again, how to work against this tendency of the archive, to borrow from the museum, to become a form of display, and to borrow from the library, to
be well-behaved and orderly. How to stitch across or traverse the gaps this creates, between display and memory, access and imagination. And of course
its not that this conflict exists only in large institutional forms. I think it also haunts all art, and projects like Yasmine's (Eid Sabbagh), and our
own work at CAMP for example.
2. It is not a matter of making a choice between displaying and archiving. I am reminded here of comments from yesterday at this seminar, of how "dont
ever forget", but "never speak", is a certain form of memory. And I think Pad.ma's clear response has been yes, "always remember", but also yes, "do
Because anyway these are not totalising gestures. They are themselves ultimately unstable or incomplete, and you see this in the way text and images
live on Pad.ma. In other words, we don't have to choose between memory and speaking. They are both similarly unreliable. Yet another way of putting
this is that motivations and perceptions can always be deeper, that what appears in the picture, or what is said. And there is maybe also an
ontological ground for this, and I will try to explain briefly.
This is from the work of a local philosopher, who some of you may know, who lives in Zamalek and teaches at AUC (American University of Cairo), Graham
Harman whose theory of objects says that all things have a withdrawn aspect. That is, they are never fully exhausted by our interactions with them.
They retain smouldering depths that we can only allude to, and our way of speaking about them can barely touch these depths. So you can do chemical
analyses of an object, or pattern studies of its digital file, you can use it metaphorically, you can deploy it politically, you can add 1000 keywords
to it or transcribe it in every known language, but none of this exhausts the object itself, it always has something hidden from us, and always
potentially has more to offer.
One of the lessons of this approach is that ambiguity and opacity is a given feature of all objects. This has major implications for art, I think.
Because now, the task is not to artificially generate ambiguity, in a kind of performance of obscurity. In other words, art is not a soapy sponge that
you apply on your own windscreen so that everything outside now has the appearance of being complex. No, complexity is an existing feature of that
outside. And lucidity is the attempt to grapple with this character of objects, in a sincere way. And to push the frontier of what may be understood,
of what can be felt, and alluded to, to a more interesting place. And yes, lucidity creates its own shadow, it points to new things that cannot be
reached. And this idea brings us directly to the question of Open, which I will end this talk with.
By stating the open in this way, something is saved, is rendered inacessible or hidden to the invading army. Maybe you lose the streets, but save the
families. Surrender is an act of self-preservation. Such a withdrawal is part of every form of "open". The open is never completely transparent. In our
workshop here, we discussed how Open is an important thing to question, to understand the various forms of being open. And maybe we can do this here
today, too. What is Open, open to what.
There is for example the open found in many open source software conferences, or professional meetings like this. That is the open of being open to
business, to close a number of deals. There is also the open of being open-ended, or of being open to external or alien influences. Then there is the
practical problem that happens when the government such as in India says that all long-distance education will only use open-licensed material. Which
means that previously published books, all of history for example, has to be retroactively licensed as open content, which may take a long time to
Despite such roadblocks, and despite the fact that even personally all of us may have an experience of being ripped off or exploited in being open at
various times, the overall impulse is clear. How to reproduce openness even further, how to institutionalise even, this outward
movement, in order to reach unacknowledged and hidden spaces... how to give this more momentum, that is the question.
- Ten Theses on the Archive
- Hal Foster, The Archive without Museums, October, Vol. 77 (Summer, 1996), pp. 97-119.
- Wikipedia on Open City
Don't wait for the archive
There is some ambivalence about the role of technology in archives - in the conversion from the imprecise analog to the digital, how the precise
cataloguing and ordering of things has increased modes of surveillance and served to restrict access, rather than open it up. However, it is perhaps
simplistic to blame bad construction on the hammer that is employed, or blame the microphone for the hate-speech that it amplifies.
The technology will always be a tool, and today's instantly networked digital technology with all its promise of instant reproduction and infinite
archival, has the potential to amplify greatly. In the context of the State archive, with the State's inherent tendency toward surveillance,
categorization in strict hierarchical divisions, and policy to exclude that which is not convenient to its nationalist ideal, of course the technology
will amplify these tendencies. We cannot wish this technology away. It will not pass like a bad dream - the minutae of your children's growing lives
will be 'archived' on Facebook and other digital repositories, images of you caught on surveillance cameras will be archived on servers somewhere - the
logic driving these archival processes are hidden from view, following the arbitrary logics of their 'owners'.
This hyper mode of digital archival has the tendency to overwhelm, to make us feel we have no control over its processes, and can cause us to
surrender, to wait to be archived.
Waiting is forbidden.
What would we do if we could become the creators of these tools, and not just users? How might we build them differently? How might we conceptualize
modes of archival and actually implement them, if waiting for the archive was no longer an option?
Of course, there is a different impulse here than the State archive or various digitization processes that serve to increase hegemonic values. There is
a different impulse from Facebook, Twitter or Youtube. For me, the question is a bit about process - the technological and practices that frame the
'software development' aspect of the project.
Before talking about this process however I would like to quote from 'The Zen of Python' by Tim Peters. This is where Peters talks about some of the
philosophy behind the Python programming language:
The Zen of Python, by Tim Peters
Beautiful is better than ugly.
Explicit is better than implicit.
Simple is better than complex.
Complex is better than complicated.
Flat is better than nested.
Sparse is better than dense.
Special cases aren't special enough to break the rules.
Although practicality beats purity.
Errors should never pass silently.
Unless explicitly silenced.
In the face of ambiguity, refuse the temptation to guess.
There should be one-- and preferably only one --obvious way to do it.
Although that way may not be obvious at first, unless you're Dutch.
Now is better than never.
Although never is often better than *right* now.
If the implementation is hard to explain, it's a bad idea.
If the implementation is easy to explain, it may be a good idea.
Namespaces are one honking great idea -- let's do more of those.
Coming back to some of the imperatives behind pad.ma and our 'open archive' project:
1. An 'open' archive is as much about open 'processes' as it is about open 'access'. In practical terms that would mean open source code, wiki,
iterative development model, and a public mailing list - don't be afraid of putting your mistakes and doubts out there.
2. The data layer and the presentation layer are always separate. Thus, the archive is not reducible to the particular forms it takes, though it does
allow for alternative modes of representation and usage, as is evident from the video essay platform currently in use on Pad.ma
3. A digital archive does not require things to be put into a single shelf. It does not require a strict hierarchical categorization model, but for
more open and flexible taxonomies and several points of entry.
4. The best way to preserve material is to give it away.
5. There is no canonical truth. In practical terms, the software allows multiple users to add annotations and commentary to specific times in video
6. The archive is never complete. Since there is no canonical truth, the archive is never complete, so why wait to put it out there? The same goes for
the software - there is no perfect archival model or platform, and it is always an iterative process. There is no need to wait for completeness.
7. An open web-based archive follows open web standards and uses only non-proprietary code in its making. It does not compromise itself in a rush to be
accessed by or be accessible to tools that do not support open standards. The archive is built to last.
8. An open archive is open on both ends. Material can be freely accessed, downloaded and re-used. Material can also be freely uploaded, annotated,
categorized and contextualized.
9. An open archive is hard work. None of this happens by magic. With over 300 hours of fully transcribed video material, xxx layers of annotation, and
approximately xxx lines of source-code, there is a significant amount of human labour involved. This is all in the form of the website, pad.ma, of
course, which we are not going to show or 'demo' because the archive is not really meant to be presented, the archive must be dug through / explored,
and I personally prefer browsing a website / archive at 2 am in my pajamas in the comfort of my home rather than on a projector screen in a conference.
In practical terms, you can find a link to a 'How-To' as well as other technical questions on our wiki, http://wiki.pad.ma/.
- The Zen of Python
Notes on Collaboration
The tagline for this last day of the symposium is "Towards a collaborative model of knowledge production?", and I would like to take a brief look at what this "collaborative model" could be. I do have the impression we might
have to disassemble the concept of "knowledge production" too, but maybe we can still do that later.
My one-line abstract would be that collaboration can be quite a mess, and that we should refuse the temptation to steer the discussion we are having
today towards just a happy collaborative ending.
None of these ideas are particularly new or specifically mine, I can point you towards a few theorists of collaboration, and a few texts they have
written, but what I wanted to bring to this table is not actually based on readings, but more on observations.
First of all, I would have to make a terminological distinction, between collaboration and cooperation. Collaboration and cooperation do not form a
simple opposition, but lets for one moment assume that they did.
It is a distinction that is not so much rooted in the etymology of these two terms, but rather in their historical use. Since if we want to go towards
collaboration, we have to talk about the collaborator, about the figure of the traitor, the one who works with the enemy.
Because that is what we do. We are not entirely contained within the generosity of our groups, within respect and solidarity. Working together may
happen in a surprisingly brusque and not at all generous mode, where the collaborators follow, above all, their own interests and agendas.
And on the other side, you have cooperation, which is what usually takes place in larger organizations, and often goes by the name of team work: the
tightly choreographed and synchronized interaction between specialized units, task forces that, maybe more than anything other, communicate
effectively. Plus a variety of procedures and protocols that have been established, like self-monitoring, self-evaluation, etc, in case something
should go wrong.
If you want a simple dichotomy, you have networked collectives on the one side, and "the institution" on the other side. But I do not think this
blackand- white opposition will take us very far. To talk about collaboration would be to look at a dark and muddy shade of grey, which I think is much
Collaboration would mean to abandon two ideologies at the same time: both the romantic notion of fair exchanges between equal partners, but also the
puritan ethics of abstinence, of keeping your hands clean, and avoiding any contact with your enemies.
And this is why I would propose, as the "model of collaboration", the model of the parasite. The organism that drops onto, and lives inside, another
organism. To quote from Michel Serres: "The parasite invents something new. He obtains energy and pays for it in information. He obtains the roast and
pays for it with stories... He establishes an unjust pact."
Between the parasite and the host, you will find an almost entirely abusive constellation. The parasites just sucks. Parasitical collaboration does not
look for use value, it looks for abuse-value. But it is precisely this type of abuse that will make the host move, and absorb something new.
And again, lets not draw a too simplistic pretty picture of a world that has hosts on one end, and parasites on the other. The parasite is not binary.
As Michel Serres says: "The parasite parasites the parasites." Within collaboration, you are never just the host, and never just parasitical. And this can
be quite a mess.
Especially since collaboration itself never appears in pure form. Abusive collaboration, and more bureaucratic cooperation, are not a clear-cut
opposition, and there is no dialectics in which they would give way to a third, higher form of working together. Each of these modes requires the
other, for its own ends.
Without a minimum of cooperation, collaboration would rapidly disintegrate. And without a bit of collaboration, cooperative environments would come to
a standstill. But the advantage of collaboration is that it can form a parasitical relation to managerial or bureaucratic cooperation. Whereas
cooperation usually fails to manage, or integrate, or otherwise neutralize the collaborator.
Collaboration is sometimes confused with, but distinctively different from, the currently dominant ideology of self-regulating markets. This idea of
purely egoistic participants in exchanges, where by the magic of the market, the fittest will survive. Collaboration is not an economy of accumulation,
nor is it a trade. It is an economy of expenditure.
The need to collaborate arises from specific situations. Sometimes you just cannot be performant, and effective. Not because it is boring. Which it may
be. But because you simply cannot do it. There are situations in which you have to form somewhat excessive and unfair collaborations, because their
intensity is what makes production possible. And the art is then to find a type of meta-stability that makes them sustainable.
Collaboration does not shield itself from the affective energy that flows through working together. It taps into destructive energy, in order to
produce. The first parasite may steal your ideas, the next one may steal your best friend. None of them will do your bookkeeping, or even the dishes.
And at some point, these will have to be done. But at the same time, you may be able to live at someone else's expense, to draw resources from other
networks or organizations who are willing to open themselves up, even if only temporarily, to this economy of collaboration.
In the context of Pad.ma, none of these considerations are theoretical. They are all entirely practical. You can easily see this by the composition of
its producers, a group of groups. We first of all have to collaborate amongst ourselves.
With CAMP you have an artist collective that has its background in filmmaking, architecture, and software development. To bring these fields together
is not trivial. You also have CAMP - the space, that draws much of its productivity from the fact that it allows itself to be multi-dysfunctional. Or
the Alternative Law Forum in Bangalore, a lawyer's collective that started as a reading group, but could also, easily, perform the function of a
critical film studies department. And I leave it to someone else to describe the various double agendas of 2620, which is Pad.ma's Berlin component.
(And then Pad.ma has been founded in collaboration with two more classically cooperative NGOs in Bombay.)
I would not go so far to call Pad.ma a productive misunderstanding, but it is definitely a spiraling movement around the blind spot that may be its
actual core: the individual extraction of surplus from a variety of shared resources, and shared concerns.
How do you avoid that everyone falls back into their respective "fields", the artists make art, the software developers develop software, the
bookkeepers keep the books, and the frequent flyers travel? What coalitions can you form to prevent these forms of specialization? And I guess it is
the same when we are talking about collaborations among archiving initiatives. With Pad.ma, we are looking for both: hosts, and parasites. You have to
talk to Google, to filmmakers, to social activists... at the same time. They are not not going to get the same story. You have to push things in
directions that can be conflicting, just to get some room to move. It is good to operate within your competence, and with responsibility, but
sometimes, you also have to play.
And maybe Pad.ma is not even the best example for a collaborative approach. With aaaarg, wikileaks and others too, I guess we will meet the parasite,
and the collaborator, again.
- Michel Serres, The Parasite, John Hopkins University Press, 1982.