One of the signature genres of The Labyrinth Project, archival cultural histories provide access to a large body of diverse historical data (including texts, images, sounds, maps, material objects, etc.) structured as archives (either as on-line digital records or a material site), out of which many historical narratives can be generated by a variety of users with different goals. These histories can be presented as an installation, an on-line website, a DVD-ROM, an anthology, an essay, a book, a film, a television series, a radio broadcast, a live performance, a photographic exhibition or some other interactive narrative form.
MK essay: “Uncanny Visions of History: Two Experimental Documentaries from Transnational Spain—Asaltar los cielos and Tren de sombras”
“The mixture of archival images, black-and-white and color footage, 16mm film, digital video, Super 8, photographs, interviews, audio united in a visual and sound montage, makes the telling of this history effective and accessible. We are addressing spectators of ARTE and of MTV with a model of audiovisual ideas that reflect modern concepts of how to look at cultural facts, documents, or music.”
Asaltar combines processed archival footage and a complex weave of interviews with a wide range of historical witnesses from a broad geographical range. They all had some direct connection with the film’s three major characters, who were born in different nations: Mercader in Spain; his mother Caridad del Río in Cuba; and his victim, Trotsky, in Russia.... There are also occasional star cameos like the brief interview with Sara Montiel (the leftist Spanish movie queen who met Mercader in Mexico). Yet the most famous “stars” in the story—Stalin, La Pasionaria, Diego Rivera (who convinced Mexican President Lázaro Cardenas to grant Trotsky a visa), Frida Kahlo (who had an affair with him), David Siquieiros (who tried to assassinate him)—are, like the protagonist and victim, all dead. They are ghosts who appear only in archival footage and whose direct testimonies are irretrievably lost, like those of Trotsky and Mercader.”
p. 18, “We see how genre contextualizes the meaning of images and sounds, and that all generic options foregrounded by Guerin—melodrama, mystery-detection, documentary, art film and historical reconstruction—can be applied to any movie. He employs genres the way he uses music, as a database of alternatives that alter the meaning of perceptions and that call attention to how we actually read the combination of sounds, images, and words.”
Video Vortex Reader: Responses to Youtube
MK essay: “The Conceptual Power of On-Line Video: 5 Easy Pieces”
As archival cultural histories, they involve a series of re-orchestrations in which on-line users and museum-goers participate. Labyrinth’s database narratives all feature brief video modules that can be combined in a variety of ways. The mix is presented as a stochastic system—a term Gregory Bateson used to describe evolution: a combination of design, choice and chance. The brevity of the individual modules works toward emotional intensity, yet we include narrative lures to prolong the users’ engagement within this force field of desire, where closure and other forms of premature death can be resisted. The combination (of brevity and prolongation) enhances the conceptual power of the pieces, both from amateurs and professionals.”
A Cultural History of Jews in California: The Jewish Role in American Life
MK’s essay: “Jewish Homegrown History: In the Golden State and Beyond”
The topic we chose was a cultural history of Jews in California, which would be presented to the general public in three different modes: as an on-line multimedia archive, a traveling museum installation, and a print anthology edited by Deverell (the volume in which this essay appears). Together these public presentations would comprise (what we at Labyrinth call) a “transmedia network,” the use of multiple media to create a series of networked public spaces that enable participants to engage with the same material in different ways.
p. 99, “Like cultural historian Diana Taylor, we believe that every database or archive is designed for a particular kind of knowledge production and comes with specific (if not necessarily explicitly stated) goals; and the decision of which items to include or exclude, what categories to use as structuring principles, and what metadata to collect (or exclude) for later retrieval —all of these decisions serve ideological ends. In our works, we frequently visualize the database structure so that the interface design exposes this process of knowledge production, which is precisely what happens in Jewish Homegrown History.
Cinema’s Alchemist: The Films of Péter Forgács
MK essay, “Reorchestrating History: Transforming The Danube Exodus into a Database Documentary”
MK essay, “Medium Specificity and Productive Precursors: An Introduction”
Perhaps most important, they both recognize that database structures and archival histories offer a seductive promise of `total knowledge,’ one that reinforces traditional epistemological assumptions about the stabilizing effects of rational order and progress. Yet they both claim that this vision of wholeness is an illusion. Instead they call attention to the inevitable gaps and random combinations in history, which they see as the driving force of narrative desire. By challenging the illusory nature of any totalizing history, they open the path for an open-ended narrative experimentation that always leaves room for the unknown and that exposes the ideological implications of all databases and their search engines.”