My animation for the Cambridge Cultural Heritage Data School 2022 public event (Anti)Colonial archives in the digital age is an alternative form of record: a kind of visual minute-taking. As with all minutes (and indeed all archives?), it is partial, informed by my own impression of the talks and discussions that took place.
It might seem strange to present a summary of such an event in the form of a digital animation, but I like to think that using art interventions in this way can bring alternative perspectives to a subject: words and phrases are brought together in new and unexpected combinations, they are presented at different speeds and in different spacial relationship to eachother, and this can activate new connections and new ways of looking at a topic, both to to those already familiar with the material and to those who might be looking for a flavour or sample of the subject matter by way of an introduction.
I was particularly mindful of the sensitivity surrounding the topics being discussed and of the fact that the subject area is not my own specialism. This reinforced my sense of being an observer rather than active participant. I was looking forward to hearing the presentations and learning from them.
So my aim was to try and reflect back the essence of what was said and to acknowledge the many different opinions that were shared during the discussions rather than to add any new contributions of my own. And besides, so much ground was covered that no additional material was needed!
My approach was to note down the phrases that stood out to me as I listened, rather than to attempt a faithful transcription or complete restatement all of the points that were made. (And as such it falls short of being a faithful documentary record.) These phrases were then grouped together by theme, thus cutting across the actual sequence of presentations in order to consolidate ideas, comments and insights from all sections of the workshop. There was much talk of the nature and processes of the archive, and some sequences reflect the back-and-forth of discussions around how best to respond to the problems and challenges that archives pose. I was also struck by the conversations about absences and those who are missing or left out of the archive. This did not seem to take up a large part of the proceedings but it felt important, so I included a memorial to the absent as a distinct section of the animation in its own right.
I decided to not to include the specifics of any of the individual cases studies that were presented. This was partly in order to focus on the underlying themes and issues raised by the workshop, and partly to avoid the potential pitfalls of attempting to summarise the specifics of someone else’s detailed academic research in a few short phrases.
The animation is generated using Python code, and as such it is a fairly lo-fi approach which keeps the focus on the words themselves. All words and phrases used were taken directly from the event, and the colours used were sampled from images shown during the presentations.
I found the workshop informative, challenging and energising. Many thanks to Dr Irving Huerta and Dr Anne Alexander for inviting me to respond in this way. I hope my contribution provides some additional insights and opportunities for reflection.
Watch the video on the Cambridge Digital Humanities YouTube channel: