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All images © Leah Sandler

The Body Bureaucratic and Archive of Scarcity

Leah Sandler

Situated within a future extrapolated from contemporary conditions, namely late or advanced capitalism and its reliance on accumulation and transformation of natural resources, the Body Bureaucratic and Archive of Scarcity are a fictional institution dedicated to development of an archival theory and practice. The institution is focused on the ‘body-as-repository’ and based on the constraints that poverty places on the preservation of personal and societal memory. The following will briefly outline the theoretical influences and foundations of the project, focusing on contemporary and historical conditions that could hypothetically cause a future where scarcity is a universally prevalent condition. It also considers why an archiving institution specifically functions in these conditions, and how these things relate to the ‘body-as-repository’ foundation of the project.

The post-apocalyptic setting of the project is based on the unsustainable nature of globalised capitalism, in its organisation of ecological resources as well as its ability to enforce its social order. Capitalism is based on a system of accumulation that relies on an abundance of natural resources and cheap labour. It has also been exploited to the point of no return. As environmental crisis ensues, new systems of value and exchange will be created, influenced by the urgencies of increasing poverty.

The first theoretical assumption held in the project is that a collective loss of memory surrounding the specific historical pre-conditions of capitalism has facilitated the continued violence and exploitation of the impoverished classes within the system. In this future, widespread conditions of poverty exist in an a-historical vacuum that prevents individuals, too occupied by the constant tasks of survival, from recognising the violence that pre-conditioned their circumstances. Fredric Jameson’s concept of a weakening of historicity in Postmodernism: The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991) - the experience of “a series of pure and unrelated presents in time” - is the basis of this hypothesis, which applies the cultural symptoms of late capitalism to this impoverished future.

The form of an institutional archive represents a desperate attempt to reinstate some form of societal memory or preservation of history, invoking forms familiar to the collapsing society. While referencing the pervasiveness of bureaucratic control (one of the essential features of late capitalism as identified by the Frankfurt School and further expanded upon by Jameson), the body-archive subverts the inherent separations of public and private implied by bureaucratic forms and, most importantly, provides tools for both reclamation of sublimated narratives and survival by marginalised bodies.

The project posits the physical body, its necessary tools of survival, and its intentionally inflicted and automatic inscriptions of history (tattoos, scars, genetic memory of trauma, gesture and repertoire, etc.) as an archive, basing value determination on portability, necessity, and functionality. In a future in which the body/archive exists, the transformation of an institutional archive’s power over cultural memory into a dispersed and individual responsibility gestures towards a redistribution of power, and a reclamation of agency over creation of historical narratives.

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