The life of an archival object – Christopher Squier

Image courtesy of the Expatriate Archive Centre: EAC 1.0068 144 “Drilling Rig – Eastern Nigeria.”

By Christopher Squier

While working on this project, my thought processes have adapted from thinking specifically about the loss of vision and hearing, as described in the archive letters, to looking at forms of decay and degradation on the photographs themselves: weather marks and natural acids that have created colorful ‘blooms,’ like nebulas or fireworks on the surface of the photographs.

The form of the piece is still shifting as well. I have edited the photographs to focus on the decay marks, and darkened the background. Because of the dark background—like looking through smoked glass—the photos resemble the 18th and 19th century English genre of picturesque paintings. I like this association because this style of artist paintings was typically made while referencing a black, mirrored Claude glass, which European tourists frequently took traveling during the same period. Everyone was seeing the world through the same atmospheric viewfinder for a period of time—and one which impaired their vision of each place!

“Everything went shimmery.” Image courtesy of the author, adapted from the Expatriate Archive Centre: EAC 1.0068 33 “Niger Delta from Helicopter, Pt. Harcourt-Oloibiri.”

The form of my piece is also meant to be nomadic. I’m thinking of creating a ‘standard method’ for storing the fabric for transport (maybe folded), along with a series of collapsible metal rods. In each location the work is displayed, the piece may end up being slightly different based on the setting. As a result, I’m still brainstorming how it could be arranged in different permutations of the same base structure. The metal rods I’m experimenting with are meant to mimic the form of the beams of the oil rigs, like those in the photos, as well as to allow the fabric photograph to ripple and sag as a somewhat dejected object.

In part, I’m thinking about the archive or storage room (in this case, either a house or a suitcase) as a photograph’s or artifact’s ‘home country’: its domestic space. If that’s the case, an exhibition would be more like the foreign locations, places where an object may not have the same neat and comfortable life it did in the archive—i.e. it may be disheveled and present more poorly than when in its ‘home’.