Diffractive Archives

A media installation project


Installation Design
Exhibition Design
Creative Coding
Content Curation

Diffractive Archives is an extensive research publication on archival practices in networked environments and a modular media installation that explores the transformative potential of data to generate multi-layered interpretations of information.

The media installation is based on a modular multi-screen system attached to a custom-built database. It showcases materials on topics displayed ‘diffractively’ to articulate different information and media, reconstitute alternative histories, and enable networked thinking. The installation is conceived as a standalone informational device that can be used for specific investigative purposes and exhibited in various settings as an experiential environment of inquiry where visitors interact with information. Today, much of our culture and knowledge repositories are online. We rely on proprietary corporate software and depreciating media supports to preserve culture and information. But while data is increasingly digital-first, it often perpetuates the categorical and proprietary confines of traditional hierarchical systems. The dominant models conceive of memory as an entry in a database that is uploaded, digitized, and preserved. Paradoxically, this is a mechanical conceptual model for memory that does not account for how memory lives between objects, people, contexts, situations, and various agents. 

Different cultures in different periods have stored intergenerational knowledge differently, often through narratives that translate the relationships between people, objects, and the environment. Ahead of uncertain times, we must think of memory relationally and dialogically to develop forms of media literacy that match an understanding of computational processes with the more informal and practical modes of knowledge traditionally enacted within the arts, humanities, and social sciences. “Diffractive Archives” mixes a series of methodologies derived from cultural studies, anthropology, technology studies, computer science, critical theory, media art, design, and philosophy. It collects and relates text, images, video, and audio using computational techniques, code systems, and generative modeling. It emphasizes relational and associative thinking patterns, interconnecting disparate information and relationships.

Instrumental discursive design involves the creation of discursive objects. As an installation project, “Diffractive Archives” is a discursive object designed to communicate information through relational and associative thinking patterns. The first thematic investigation uses the installation as a discursive object that focuses on nature, sustainability, and political agency; it takes the notion and circumstances of the Anthropocene to showcase various political ecology theories, projects, artworks, real-time data, and information analysis. Art and design play an essential role in the social embedding of technological developments—as such, we seek to create an exhibition context in which practice-oriented research regarding the impact of climate change is explored through critical dialogue and artistic reflection. We are interested in testing coding solutions such as metamorphic algorithms, aeolian protocols, or hydrodynamic computation to analyze how generative spatiotemporal patterns create substantive experiences.

The installation is inspired by a doctoral thesis that argues for a novel interpretation of archives and provides the backbone of the extensive research publication accompanying the installation. Some of the notions explored in the publication include the archaeology of knowledge, material and discursive formations, spectrality, tele-technologies, epistemological relativism, submedial spaces, the decolonization of knowledge and archives, chronopolitics, social memory, and fictional overwriting. An emphasis is put, however, on the idea of forensic archives, as inspired by the writings and practice of Forensic Architecture, and the concept of diffractive archives, as inspired by writings around the notion of diffraction in Karen Barad and new materialism. In physics, diffraction is a physical phenomenon that occurs when many waves encounter an obstacle in their path or when waves overlap. In new materialism theories, seeing and thinking diffractively implies a self-accountable, critical, and responsible engagement with the world. Diffraction patterns are patterns of difference and fundamental constituents of the world; they abandon hierarchical thinking and favor dialogical, accidental, uncertain, unstable, and unexpected situations to emerge.

Diffractive Archives is a project currently in development and is expected to launch in 2024. Sample simulation © Stranger Projects OÜ, 2021-2023.

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