Different ways of entering – Welcome to the Dirty Archive

by Julia Lübbecke

Many small human-like beings descend below the earth’s surface. In the book Der Bergbau und seine Kultur (Mining and its culture)[1], “different ways of entering” is written in the caption next to an image of a woodcut from De re metallica by the founder of modern geology and mining history, Georgius Agricola, which dates back to 1556. The relationship between two actually very different areas, the archive and mining, is tirelessly established in this particular archive, which is largely made up of the literary estates of a mining union.

Finding access, opening access.
I am not alone in this place. The person sitting opposite me is digging deep, seems to know exactly where to go, and should a route lead to a seeming dead end, then new treasures appear despite, or precisely because of the detours.

Meanwhile, I don’t have one particular goal in mind. I try to catch every corridor, take every entrance that opens up to me. It feels like an impossible endeavour, offering me breadth like a plant with shallow roots, yet allowing the depth to recede into the distance. Like a being with multiple arms, an octopus or a brittle star, I move with a thousand threads in my hands, which continuously untangle and then suddenly entangle again. At one point or another, I am afraid of losing the common thread, or that I’ve lost it already. Literary and cultural scientist Aleida Assmann gives me comfort by presenting this kind of losing sight as a practice of forgetting; as a “non-intentional de-selection” from “what may continue to exist unnoticed in remote depositories such as attics or basement rooms and […] can occasionally be brought to light once more”.[2]

In the shadow.

I don’t like dichotomies. I like when remembering and forgetting are not perceived as mutually exclusive moments, but rather when gaps, so-called liminal spaces, are opened. This is the beginning of a fragile field of complex questions that I can only address peripherally due to the brevity of this text. Who or what is remembered and how? Who would like to be remembered at all? Have the right to be forgotten.[3]

Digging up.

I feel driven by the multitude of records opening up before me. With the information that is kept rather short in the respective files, everything and nothing has potential. So I have more and more files dug up and the collection that is spreading out before me presents an endless challenge; everything must be taken up. A restlessness arises; every day I fall into bed exhausted. My body aches after a day’s work of moving files and books back and forth between rooms as quickly as possible to digitise them on a scanner. I carry, hold, stand, while I try to set aside the contents in my head. During this time, my body becomes an extension of the bodies lying before me. In addition, there are visible traces such as fingers stained by dirt and dust. In this archive, too, the precarious situation of many archives leaves traces on the files that cannot be provided with the requirements of sustainable storage.

Shortly after my sojourn there, I hear a quote regarding work in self-organised, so-called free archives or archives from below during a lecture by Katja Teichmann, who works at the student-oriented women’s library and archive LIESELLE: “Archive work devours us.” A strong echo moves through me; and, again, the beings with multiple arms come to mind. Who is the octopus here?

I have to think of the Hindu goddess Durga. Although I would not place my work in any divine context, I Iong to find assistance here as to how to move forward with so many arms. During my research, I stumble upon the translation of her name. Durga literally means “the inaccessible one, the inconceivable one”.

So I hope that my job of laying down a complex underground access system and my struggle with the octopus devouring me – or with Durga who escaped me – has allowed me to grow a new arm or two. So that I may trace the many points of contact and openings.

Julia Lübbecke (*1989 in Gießen) studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, at UMPRUM - Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Leipzig.

Her transdisciplinary practice includes sculptural installations, photography, text, video and performative elements. In 2019 she was winner of the IKOB - Art Prize for feminist art and in 2020 participant of the postgraduate program Goldrausch Künstlerinnenprojekt.

From Oct—Dec 2021, Julia Lübbecke was a resident at the Haus der Geschichte in Bochum.

[1] Gerhard Heilfurth, Der Bergbau und seine Kultur, 1981, Atlantis Verlag, p. 107, image caption of a woodcut by Georgius Agricola in De re metallica.

[2] Aleida Assmann, Archive im Wandel der Mediengeschichte; in Archivologie: Theorien des Archivs inWissenschaft, Medien und Künsten, 2009, ed. Knut Ebeling and Stephan Günzel, Kulturverlag Kadmos Berlin

[3] I came across the concept for the first time in a conversation with artist Chan Sook Choi. She used it to describe her comprehensive work of several years entitled FOR GOTT EN.

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