Follow the paper trail: publications in the archive
Publications — both printed and digital — mediate across time and distances, intricately connecting us to one another. They feature in the first edition of Kaitoitoi, an ambitious new digital archive that looks to document contemporary design in Aotearoa.
I was excited to hear about this project. As a design educator and scholar at Ngā Pae Māhutonga Wellington School of Design, we look back at what came before and around us, with a mind to contribute to the field of knowledge we are intrinsically a part of. An archive appeals to creative researchers as a knowledge repository, deliberate in its design and future-thinking in its inception.
As a restless reader, I actively seek out publications of all shapes and sizes. As an artist and publication maker, I add, subtract, turn inside-out and then recreate the stuff again from scratch. This pleasure principle is evidenced through publications, essays, zines, books and collages. I share, teach, and write about them. The uber-localised world of ‘stuff’ contained within these four walls has been made much more acute since global lockdown.
The archival impulse is literally everywhere, materialising as fragments on my desk: a stack of postcards, books, postal receipts, an essay cut up like confetti, an exhibition catalogue, Polaroids from Hong Kong, printer’s specs, a student essay, a picture of my mum in the 90s, a stolen ‘HELLO my name is’ sticker, an address book, an I.O.U. note to myself, a 7” record sleeve and a tape measure. I am an accidental archivist.
To archive is to collect, curate, preserve and display. In Ilya Kabakov’s essay ‘The man who never threw anything away’ (1977), the protagonist has a lifetime of varied things — a ‘paper rain’ of magazines, letters, addresses, receipts, notes, envelopes, invitations, catalogues, programmes, telegrams, wrapping paper and so forth “arranged in a special, one might say carefully maintained, order.” We take such matters very seriously in Aotearoa. Shipping to these islands is expensive, hence what we can make and circulate on the ground is precious. Could Kaitoitoi be read as an antipodean archive of the beautiful boring here and now?
So is this the end of the paper trail? I once daydreamed about countering ‘ too much information’ online by pressing a pause button on the internet – literally. No more browser windows to open, nothing more to doom-scroll down for, just a chance to slowly go back and read everything that is already there. Yet that would go against the prolific nature of artists, designers and publishers, who are inadvertently contributing to future archives every day with artwork, recordings, publications and various outputs. I hope something like Kaitoitoi can encourage researchers and practitioners to actively question the very notion of the archive, while considering what their own practice might look like in proximity to it — perhaps to actively embrace, resist or even redefine it.