archivedestruct: Christchurch 2006
The Physics Room
19 July - 12 August, 2006


Dominant Disorder

Kate Montgomery, January 2006

As the raw material for archivedestruct, David Clegg has artfully drawn together a collection of ephemeral traces and documentary evidence of the movement of his body through a variety of enculturated, transitory spaces within a number of different cities. By obliquely recording the time spent in each of archivedestruct's locations, Clegg represents the collected traces of his own experience upon the horizontal surface of a table, beckoning his archive's users to further investigate, examine, sort and compare the variety of material connections and disparities on display.

In spite of this project's earnest documentary effect, archivedestruct's focus remains primarily on the process that governs and facilitates the collection and assimilation of new material into the flux of this unusually expanding and contracting archive. Consequently, the collection of materials presented during any particular installation of archivedestruct functions collaboratively as a device to draw attention to the complex cultural process of transference by slowing down and making strange the act of information sharing between Clegg's personal experience and our own reception of archivedestruct's evidential records.

Harnessing the conservative, communicative device of the archive as a mechanism to structure an analysis of elusive cultural processes and affinities, Clegg runs through the same protocols and processes of data collection upon the streets of numerous cities1. Tracking and documenting the temporal lags that occur everyday as our bodies move through space from one destination to another, archivedestruct also efficiently cross-references the distance between different aural and visual communicative media making the most of the interference, disjunctures and estrangement that occurs within the confines of the diagnostic configuration that informs archivedestruct.

If the archive is truly the ultimate form of montage then archivedestruct is more than comfortable presenting its users with an extraordinary array of sequenced affinities to do with what they like. Equally fascinated by the everyday detritus and "half concealed, variegated traces of the daily life of 'the collective'"2 that long-captivated Walter Benjamin, Clegg's project can be seen to take on the formative structure of Benjamin's convolutes which embody the loose organisational investments and document the complex affiliations made during his research into the Paris Arcades. Benjamin's detailed sampling and analysis of diverse everyday materials and experiences rather than strictly 'significant events', and his method of research which was more closely aligned with the principle of chance than more 'rigorous' historical approaches, saw Benjamin tirelessly draw together disparate fragments into a collection he tellingly described as "the theatre of all my struggles, all my ideas"3.

The affiliative structure of the convolutes filters down to us in the form of an elaborately intertwined collection of notes and materials which were shuffled, re-sequenced and cross-referenced in parts over the time Benjamin dedicated to the Arcades. These typically convoluted and peculiarly jumbled fragments of research, evocation and quotation are sequenced according to a number of themes or headings in the same way as Clegg has chosen to index similar types of locations and spaces within the cities archivedestruct chronicles.

Bringing about a revolution in the way in which the world was perceived at the turn of the nineteenth century, Benjamin's acuity quickly noted photography's role in the destruction of the aura of the 'work of art'. Yet, Benjamin also held that the medium of photography was valuable in its own right for its ability to connect "the past with the present by supplying the 'pulse', the rhythm and the motion of the historical process, not as an unbroken chain but as a jumble of fragments and 'snapshots'"4. In the section of research within The Arcades Project dedicated specifically to photography, Benjamin notes that due "to its technical formation, the photograph, in contrast to the painting, can and must be correlated with the well defined and continuous segment of time (exposure time). In this chronological specifiability, the political significance of the photograph is already contained in nuce"5. Similarly, Clegg draws our attention to the potential informational overlap between the two documentary modes of collection reproduced within archivedestruct, the photograph and the sound recording.

Preserving dense volumes of each city's soundscape, Clegg's immersive field recordings make certain they retain the potential to unsettle, awaken and confuse their users. Recording a fleeting impression of each listed archivedestruct site, at each point a photograph was taken in the field there's an definitive lag in each of Clegg's related sound recordings. These moments which could have enacted a satisfying double up or mirroring of sound and image between the capture of real life within the camera's frame and the microphone's absorption of the aural experience of each place is tellingly refuted. During each of these near misses where lived action and recollection should compound but prefer to retreat, the ambient local noises surrounding archivedestruct's installation sites are able to seep into the user's experience of the archive, further inflecting the complexities of the information on offer and its comprehension by those interacting with the archive's myriad resources.

Honestly identifying the process of recollection as a struggle, rather than assuming memories to be something akin to a linear narrative that could be replayed at will, memory was for Benjamin a set of flickering images made up of prompts and stand-ins, glimpses and reflections that only managed to tentatively evoke experiences of time and place6. From these scattered traces Benjamin believed much could be gleaned, yet he forewarned that, "the experiences of one who attends to a trace… have no sequence and no system"7. Thus, Clegg's decision to both employ and confront our assumptions of the order and effectiveness of the archive as a memorial device closely models Benjamin's understanding of the difficulties of research into everyday cultural processes, which ensures Clegg makes the most of the similarities and slippages that occur within the formal structure and content of archivedestruct.

Benjamin focused his research on the complexities and influence of the Arcades during a time of great industrial and social change. Believing that collective consciousness both develops and resides within the public realm, existing primarily in those spaces in-between that interpolate and bind the various discrete spaces within which we live our lives, the covered passageways between Paris' streets were a bustling microcosm of commerce and prestige and provided Benjamin with a rich site for his investigations. For Benjamin, the collective remained "an eternally unquiet, eternally agitated being that - in the space between the building fronts - experiences, learns, understands and invents as much as individuals do within the privacy of their own four walls,"8 thus much could be learned from those shared cultural spaces and collective practices lived out within the public realm of the Arcades. Similarly Clegg's documentary practices can be seen to be modelled upon the supposedly idle wanderings of the flâneur.

Investigating the durational nature of experience within the everyday spaces of each city archivedestruct arrives in, Clegg's documentation also functions to edify "that anamnestic intoxication in which the flâneur goes about the city… feed[ing] on the sensory data taking shape before his eyes… as something experienced and lived through"9. Similarly, the transmissible character of a city, and the lived experience of particular spaces within each location are strong elements of Clegg's project, however fraught with difficulty the documentation and transfer of such felt knowledges may prove to be.

The figure of the flâneur is a particularly interesting antecedent of archivedestruct especially when Michel de Certeau's conception of the act of walking is considered in relation to Clegg's urban documentation practices. In his essay "Walking in the City," de Certeau positions walking as a specific form of enunciation which allows individuals and groups to inscribe another layer of complexity upon the already imposed structure of the city. Consequently, these lived-out, spatial practices create new stories that are made legible upon the face of the city.

In the section of this essay, entitled "The chorus of idle footsteps" de Certeau explains that simply mapping movements within a city foolishly does away with the complexities and richness of the experience itself. Thus to simply mark out a path upon a grid, although "itself visible… has the effect of making invisible the operation that made it possible. These fixations constitute procedures of forgetting"10 which sees the trace left behind erroneously elevated to the value of the originating practice. As if in answer to this, Clegg's documentation of each location focuses on what are oblique or overlooked everyday details, such as other people walking, vacant lots, iron construction or food halls, and proffer the archive's users an array of source material for open comparison no matter how trivial or purposeless the images or recordings may initially seem.

Having dedicated another section of his argument specifically to "Walking Rhetorics", de Certeau considers the specific linguistic roles of the synecdote and asyndeton in parallel to the practices and recollections of pedestrians. Describing these features de Certeau explains that synecdote "names a part instead of a whole" just as Clegg's park bench might prefigure the larger recreational park, and that asyndeton which ordinarily indicates the elision of conjunctions, in walking has the effect of fragmenting the experience of the space traversed11. Thus, synecdote has the function of making things "more dense: it amplifies the detail and miniaturises the whole" while asyndeton opens gaps in the spatial continuum, retaining only selected parts of experience that "amount almost to relics"12. Similarly, as users we are drawn to take each of Clegg's photographs or recordings as a constitutive, indicative fragment of each city yet the audible gaps and lapses between each document don't serve to completely undo the totality or value of the experience or location depicted, as fragmentary as our relation to it may be. Thus de Certeau's linguistic model presents an interesting pattern for formulating a response to Clegg's audio-visual archival traces which manage to function as oddly concise analogies however you come to familiarise yourself with the raw material contained therein.

Using text, image and audio materials collected daily over the duration of Clegg's installation, all of which finds itself carried on to the project's next location where new recordings eventually supplant the old, archivedestruct ultimately presents itself as an unusually open-ended and transient archive. Like much of Clegg's past practices, archivedestruct purposefully accentuates a range of blindspots that surround the normal events of everyday life and in the process also highlights some of the pitfalls and omissions that prove to be foundational to institutional forms such as the archive. According to Benjamin, any collection is an "expressly devised historical system"13 designed to elucidate the 'completeness' and value of the object or item at hand. In much the same way Jacques Derrida mistrusts the archive, "Nothing is less reliable, nothing is less clear today than the word 'archive'… Nothing is more troubled or more troubling,"14. So, just as Clegg's Imaginary Museum drew attention to the politics and power relations that are accommodated by the architectural features of a range of institutions, archivedestruct similarly flushes-out a range of easily overlooked taxonomic conceits, calling the archive as a form of cultural preservation to account for its dusty privilege.

Archives, like libraries, art galleries and museums are essentially un-common cultural spaces. Privileged within society, the action that occurs within such locations is governed by certain expected modes of behaviour and ways of working. Through archivedestruct, Clegg provocatively complicates our expectations of such reverential, careful and respectful locations, which are usually given over to procedure and responsibility, instead allowing the archive's users in this instance the ability to re-arrange and potentially mismanage the classification system and material at hand.

By focussing on the creation of tangential documentation and the presentation of evidence of potentially obscure relevance Clegg's project is unusually disorientating. Investigating the essential difficulties of transmitting experiential value, archivedestruct's oblique recordings of ephemeral moments and the unusual allowance of reciprocity between users and the accessible collection acts as a bold foil to our expectations of what archives are and how they might ordinarily function. Collecting and preserving fleeting records of moments of little or no importance on their own, this archive concretises and makes much of the generic, ordinary things and experiences you might usually edit out of a narrative of activity or description of a location.

Even the word 'archive' itself is a slippery, evasive term, which can refer to a single document or record, a collection of materials, and even to the place in which a collection of related materials is housed or accommodated. As indicated by the complexities of defining the modern word 'archive', Derrida traces two distinct but not incommensurate principles within the linguistic and conceptual structure of the Greek term arkhe, from which the modern word and its usage is derived15. The first of these principles is founded in the natural, historical evolution or ontology of a phenomenon's "commencement" or occurrence, while the second principle Derrida refers to relates to the authoritative, ordering aspects of the archive as the embodiment of a "commandment" from those who administer and physically preserve the records. Consequently, Derrida would have us understand that archives are simultaneously records of something that has taken place and a collection of information that is consequently allowed to inhabit a particular space. In this way, even the conceptual basis of the term illustrates the importance of both the internal and external relations that occur within any archival structure and are sanctioned by those that continue to govern its existence.

Interestingly, the expansion and contraction of archivedestruct's available material more honestly models and amplifies the controlling governance necessary for any archival structure. Such governance generally exists to shelter the archival collection and once sheltered, conceal the regulations which seek to control and dominate the records within the archive as well as access to that material. As illustrated by Clegg's ever evolving index and his appendices of the material amassed under the banner of archivedestruct, any material subtracted from the accessible collection has its designation struck through but not erased from the project's indices. Inaccessible but not completely occluded, these missing records testify to Clegg's dedication to transparency within the methodology of his processes and privilege more mobile constructions and reliances than we might first assume would take place within more traditional archival structures.

Conditioned spaces such as archives are always governed and function principally to possess and represent objects in the service of approved narratives. As Derrida confirms, in their traditional mode, archives represent the function of an interior psychic apparatus within an exterior, technical model structured logically in accordance with the material being preserved16. Although the word and the notion of the 'archive' seem at first, to point toward the past, "to refer to the signs of consigned memory, [and] recall faithfulness to tradition", most significantly Derrida believed, "the archive should call into question the coming of the future"17. In as much as Clegg's Museum of Noname Objects or The Imaginary Museum hoped to complicate assumptions about the functionality or institutional role of museums, archivedestruct serves a similar purpose in relation to the cultural location and value of the archive. Any expectation of the hierarchy of the cultural forms selectively represented and preserved within the confines of this archive are inverted from the moment Clegg steps out on one of his observational journeys. While the itinerant mobility of archivedestruct and the uncertain roll call of the archive's collection actively refutes any rationalised structure of ongoing memorial accession while simultaneously preventing the possibility of future access for many of the archive's initial users.

Indeed, it is because of the supposed rigidity of the order that governs the archive as a cultural form that makes it such a richly complex site for investigation and further disturbance. The formal inflexibility of the governance of archives serving, in effect, as an open invitation for projects which will re-conceive of the archive as an institution in fluctuation, while its precisely determined structure functions to invite practices which will expose it as chaotic as the experience of everyday life.18 Presenting archival traces that cross-examine some of the evacuated spaces of everyday cultural experience within certain locales, archivedestruct allows its users to follow their own leads as they paste together fragments, translate and transpose the various exhibits within this potentially endless and incomplete endeavour. Clegg's project as a whole also enacts a constant process of reconfiguration, as archivedestruct is required to negotiate its relationship to both its users and the institutions that accommodate its processes during the project's various installations. Indeed, while the nomadic, transient demeanour of archivedestruct enables individuals to refresh their own mnemonic constructions of everyday spaces within their own city, while contemplating and decoding those of less familiar locations, the constitutive complexity of Clegg's project does much to rattle the cage of our expectations of archival forms and their potential usefulness.

As Derrida has explained, the 'archive' has always been a pledge, something that only becomes valid or truly understandable after the passing of time19. Ordinarily, like any document, the archive itself retains an impression of the times that created it, before the division of the actual, transitory event and its more durable, permanent reproduction. So, while Theodore Adorno may have claimed that the public museum was in fact where art was put "to death" and that museums "testify to the neutralisation of culture,"20 archives, even if they are not always publicly accessible, retain the generative potential to function as active working spaces as people familiarise themselves with the meaning and purpose of the collected materials of that repository. Maintaining within the diversity of its records the space to accommodate a healthy level of internal dissonance, opacity and slippage, archivedestruct possesses not only a persuasive internal structure and an entertaining material complexity but the conceptual rigour to bring the institutional form of the archive itself strongly into question.


1 At the time of writing this text during late 2006, Clegg and archivedestruct had recently spent time in New Plymouth, Wellington and Christchurch in New Zealand, and Santiago in Chile.

2 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project - Das Passagen-Werk, Harvard University Press, 1999, Foreword, ix.

3 Benjamin, ix.

4 Angela McRobbie from "The Place of Walter Benjamin in Cultural Studies" in The Cultural Studies Reader Second Edition, 82.

5 Benjamin, 609-1.

6 McRobbie, 80.

7 Benjamin, 801.

8 Benjamin, 423.

9 Benjamin, 417.

10 Taken from Michel de Certeau "Walking in the City" in The Practice of Everyday Life, University of California Press, 1984, 97.

11 de Certeau, 101.

12 de Certeau, 101.

13 Benjamin, 204.

14 Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, University of Chicago Press, 1996, 90.

15 Derrida, 3.

16 Derrida, 15.

17 Derrida, 33-34.

18 See Nayia Yiakoumaki's "In an Archive Fever" from for further consideration of the attraction of the archive to contemporary artists and curators alike.

19 Derrida, 18.

20 See Theodore Adorno's "Valéry Proust Museum" in Prisms, Spearman, 1981, 175-85.


This essay was comissioned by The Physics Room