Documentation, not things.

What if the video archive isn’t a ‘video archive’, but an archive of ‘events that are recorded on the videos’? What is the difference? The current Circus Oz video archive is quite literal: a cupboard full of VHS and Mini-DV tapes. But once they are digitised at stored ‘in the cloud’ (as it were), it won’t be the video-object that exists in the archive (to the extent that we can say that digital objects ‘exist’ in any real sense), what will exist in the archive is a subjective record of a performance. Or less academically: you aren’t watching ‘videos’ anymore, you are watching a certain record of someone’s perspective of an event.

Here’s how it works: There is a performance. This is a real event, verifiable, happening in the world. The events of the performance are captured on video (in some format). This video is transcoded into a series of digital copies: one ‘archive quality’ (theoretically lossless), one ‘working copy’ (optimised for web streaming) for general access, others, probably stored in the nebulous cloud. Other data is associated with this copy (archive metadata, descriptions, images). Together these make up a record of a performance: a representation of the event. Documentation, not things.

How does this change the way of thinking about a video archive and archive practice? Is it because we are not concerned with preserving objects but with preserving perspectives?

In “the serendipity of the unexpected, or why a copy is not an edition”, Sarah Werner notes a problem with the digital archiving of manuscripts: that the process of digitising a copy of a text can destroy the history of the artefact. It is common practice, for example, to leave out blank pages when digitising text:

[..] their surrogates start with the frontispiece or title page, then move to the dedication/preface/letter to the reader/start of the text. But you know what’s missing? The blank verso of the title page. Does that matter? I don’t know. It might. It depends on what you’re looking for. But you’ll never know that you might be looking for an answer that depends on that blank presence if you don’t know that it’s not there.

Regarding the video archive, this point is still relevant: the representations of performance were originally on VHS and transcoded via SAMMA, so we should keep evidence of this. Does that matter? I don’t know. It might. It would be great to be able to see who’s handwriting is on the original videotape. It depends on what you’re looking for. But regarding a performance archive, I would argue, it is not so important that physical attributes of the record object are kept, what matters is the performance itself. We also have to deal with the fact that the physical aspects of the record are actually becoming harder to preserve as all steps of the archiving process move to digital: Circus Oz are shooting digital video now, writing show reports and tape descriptions on a computer, not by hand.

This is where the ‘living’ part of the ‘living archive’ comes in: To archive a performance, we need multiple perspectives from primary sources (ie, people who were there) to be able to clearly interpret the contents of the archive. If we are concerned with a record of perspectives, not a record of objects, then allowing people to add content (memories, stories, …) to the archive makes perfect sense.