Disassembling the Archive: Fiona Tan (2007)

Disassembling the Archive: Fiona Tan, Toronto: Art Gallery of York University, 2007.

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Disassembling the Archive is a quasi-fictional correspondence with the artist Fiona Tan. It departs from interpretations of postcolonial identity issues in her work to trace the implications of the archival housing of photographs and moving images. By way of a detour through Siegfried Kracrauer’s writing on photography and Jacques Derrida’s writing on the Freudian impression, we witness—right before our eyes—the disintegrative and destructive effect of photography on the archive.

Design: Bryan Gee

Design: Bryan Gee

In 2010, I wrote this paragraph on the writing of Disassembling the Archive [“Why I write Such Good Books ... and How You Can Too,” Canadian Art, 27:3 (Fall 2010)]:

Disassembling the Archive (2007) was the fiction of a year-long, one-sided correspondence with the artist Fiona Tan. In the end, we don’t know if it was ever sent. Delayed, perhaps it was already destined for the archive, for some future reader other than its intended recipient, the artist. The writing was diverted by correspondence with an image—any photographic image, itself destined for an archive. But could any archive house it? This was the catastrophic question. It seems that there was already too much commotion in the still photograph for the issue of archiving moving images to arise—my initial investigation. Fundamentally undermining itself (Siegfied Kracauer claimed that historical photographs dissolved right before our eyes), photography shook the secure ground of the archive—its classifications, too. Once again, as in Spirit Hunter, photography’s dissolving ground devastated the categories created to contain it. Merging with the spreading flood waters of Tan’s News from the Near Future, catastrophe engulfed writing in its destruction, and so allowed me to score my text to the beat or, rather, underscore it to the abyssal undertow of Mallarmé’s great poem Un coup de dés.

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