archive fever

I’m trying to figure out why I’m so taken aback by Dayanita Singh’s book FILE ROOM (Steidl, 2013), a photo-book of archives and their custodians across India. The obvious reason is of course the unexpected beauty of her project, the wonderful compositions, the secretive content, the elegant layout – But there is definitively more to be said: because there is this unspoken emotional stuff here, not usually understood as joy or pleasure, there are these alarming feelings murmuring from within …

… sadness, fear, anxiety?

Dayanita Singh: File Room [Detail], 2011 © Copyright 2013 Frith Street Gallery

But what is there to be afraid of?

In the kingdom of files, the battle is not between good and evil, but between order and chaos

– Aveek Sen

Is this what’s threatening me – my own fear of chaos? My fear of loosing control?

DAYANITA SINGH: FILE ROOM © COPYRIGHT 2013 Steidl Publishers

DAYANITA SINGH: FILE ROOM © COPYRIGHT 2013 Steidl Publishers

At the heart of a working archive is a great impossibility – a doomed attempt at mapping the chaos of life itself. A living archive continually pushes the art of memory to its limits – the limits of what all the memory in the world can rescue from disorder and chaos.

– Aveek Sen

I must admit, I find it incredible inspiring that I can get in touch with my own darker self via peculiar images of Indian archives. Isn’t it just very strange how art speaks through and across nations, time and distance? How it can communicate (what I boldly will allow myself to call) some kind of universal humanity?

And wouldn’t you also agree – there is something truly Kafkaesque in these images?

Dayanita Singh: FILE ROOM (2013), Steidl

Text: Aveek Sen

Interview: H.U. Obrist

Dayanita Singh lives and works in Delhi, she is one of the artists chosen to show in the German Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2013.


11 thoughts on “archive fever

  1. Pingback: ps | sub rosa
  2. I view this as my own heart and desires. My most common fear is of myself surprisingly. I am more afraid of what I will find in myself and what I would do. I surprise myself everyday. This was seriously such a moving piece! Thank you so much for sharing!

  3. I find the images compelling but not inspiring. They depress me a bit.

    I’m not sure why. It isn’t that I feel sad that my writings will be dust, unread–I don’t care about that. Those files represent someone’s being able to earn a living, someone literate and organized–good things. Yet the need for those files? Absent, now.

    Maybe I am just feeling my own life is getting too full of archives, stuff I don’t need. I want to throw things out!

    1. In the book there is this accompanying text by Sen, about a woman spending years in court, carrying all her papers back and forth without ever getting to present her case – a case she inherited from her late husband …

      It’s a wonderful text, rather sad, but beautiful.

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