by Gabriella Giannachi. MIT Press, January 2017. 240 p. ill. ISBN 9780262035293 (h/c), $42.00.
Reviewed April 2017
Archive Everything: Mapping the Everyday is a book that will appeal primarily to artists, art theorists, and academics interested in archival methodologies. The author, Gabriella Giannachi, is a professor of Performance and New Media and has published extensively on both topics. Archive Everything may interest archives and records management professionals, though it is firmly a theoretical work and does not engage with the day-to-day practice of those fields.
At the outset, Giannachi states that “archive,” as used in her book, goes beyond traditional definitions and instead should be understood as a relational apparatus. Over the course of six chapters she unpacks this notion of archive-as-apparatus, addressing topics such as an archaeological approach to analyzing archival content, archives as sites of memory production, the problematic relationship between traditional archival practices and non-western cultures, the subversion of archival methodologies through contemporary art practice, and the transformation of bodies and objects into “(a)live archives.”
Giannachi engages extensively with the work of theorists, artists, and others who address issues of contemporary archival practice and the historic role of the archive. Most of her arguments build on and are in direct conversation with these works, and as a result Archive Everything serves as an excellent reference point for delving into other conceptual and theoretical explorations of archives.
While this book is exhaustively researched and explores many interesting philosophical dimensions of the archive, in the end it does not present a coherent overall thesis. In fact many of its arguments, sweeping in nature, are supported by evidence and case studies that are quite narrow in scope. For example, Giannachi claims that artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Robert Morris, and the collective Ant Farm have, through work that deliberately engages archival methodologies, “[created] an appetite” for the contemporary impulse toward sharing autobiographical information on social media. This connection is not convincingly explained, and it strains credulity that artistic work whose renown and influence are largely limited to the art world have had such a profound impact on widespread social behavior. Giannachi also claims that the practice of implanting 3D-printed organs in human hosts shows that the human body itself is now an “alive archive” capable of self-regeneration. While organs and human tissues have been created using 3D printing technologies, to date none have been successfully implanted into a human body, making this a dubious support for Giannachi’s claim.
Archive Everything includes an extensive list of references and an index. It contains several black and white, sometimes low-resolution, images illustrating examples and case studies.
This book is appropriate for graduate-level collections, ideally that serve a community with a demonstrated interest in deeply theoretical approaches to incorporating archival methodologies into art-making practices.