The Whole Life: An Archive Project

The Whole Life: An Archive Project asks what archives can do for contemporary societies and how they influence them: How are historical narratives translated into contemporary realities? Can the complexities of historical processes, biographies and networks be archived at all and what narratives are excluded from the future?

The starting point for the interdisciplinary cooperation project is a network of four institutions from various archival contexts: Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art / Archive außer sich, Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Pina Bausch Foundation and Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (SKD). They are developing a program of workshops and events over the course of four years (2018-2021). Each of these institutions works exemplarily on the development of new forms of access and the contextualization of their collections. In the partnership, they test new strategies for dealing with archives with archiving, research and storytelling practices. Together they are cultivating new methods and theoretical approaches for dealing with archives and rendering them visible.

The first collective project The Whole Life: Archives and Reality (2019) was based on the transformation of the Archiv der Avantgarden (AdA) of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden from a private collection to a public archive that will move to its new home at the historic Blockhaus in Dresden in 2023. This process raises a number of typical questions about the status of archives and their holdings, about their institutional structures and their relevance with regard to specific local contexts. The one-week program in Dresden dealt with contemporary methods, organizational forms and conditions of archives using the example of this newly created archival location.

The international Whole Life Academy for interdisciplinary researchers was also launched in this context. It focuses on alternative archive structures, marginalized or subversive archival practices and their relationship to current social and political developments and discourses. The Academy combines excursions, seminars, lectures, archive research and presentations in a nomadic curriculum that correlates theory, practice and field research at different locations.

The project will be concluded at HKW in Berlin in 2022. Here, the key topics of the project will be considered: What is the social significance and the sociality of archives? How do archives reproduce historical thought structures? How are digital culture and strategies of decolonization in archives related? What do the archives of the Anthropocene look like? An exhibition of artistically researching case studies, a program by the Whole Life Academy and a congress will bring together the projects, institutions and actors of the long-term initiative.