A fascination with archives often entails a longing to return to sources, stories, and their beginnings. It is associated with a meticulous attention to detail, the uncovering of exciting connections, the collection of testimonies and reliable traces, accounts that corroborate a story, and contribute to the (re)construction of histories from below. However, at a time when the notion of the ‘archive’ threatens to become a dead metaphor or a cheap replacement for ‘canon’ or ‘corpus’, the symposium suggests to take a particularly contentious example — that of the Yugoslav Partisan ‘counter-archive’ — as a starting-point for its reconsideration of archival politics.
The Yugoslav, socialist, and Partisan past was both demonized by the resurgent Balkan nationalist projects of the 1990s and commodified by Yugonostalgic memorialization, stylized as either heroic or droll. Against these versions of a ‘frozen’ past, a multiplicity of projects, cultural, artistic, or political, have sought to document and aggregate past fragments, diverse snapshots, artworks, political events — a diverse archive to be retrieved in order to unsettle current narratives and mobilize emancipatory changes. The term ‘Partisan counter-archive’ in particular builds on two recent publications, Gal Kirn’s Partisan Counter Archive and Davor Konjukušić’s Red Light, which tackle the return to the Yugoslav Partisan struggle and its after-life, going beyond both revisionism and nostalgia.
Seeking to connect this particular example to wider revolutionary and decolonial histories, the symposium will also draw on some of the most advanced considerations of archival practices in radical modernist traditions and contemporary art. How can counter-archives connect the testimonies and legacies of past struggles with the victims of today’s oppression? What kind of power struggles are produced by counter-archives, and how do they manage to draw attention to what has been lost, overlooked, reduced, suppressed, or omitted from national archives and established historiography?
These questions and similar lines of inquiry will be discussed by researchers, artists, and filmmakers who have been working on (or with) the notion of counter-archive/s, recombining and reinterpreting the legacy of the oppressed. Coming from various disciplines and dealing with different archival materials, participants of this symposium share a critical awareness that the work on and with archives is traversed by profound power struggles.
Paula Barreiro López
Gal Kirn and Claudia Peppel
This ICI event is organized in cooperation with the project Ré.Part – Partisan Resistance(s): Visual culture, collective imagination and revolutionary memory (ANR-15-IDEX-02) of Laboratoire de Recherche Historique Rhône-Alpes (LARHRA) de l’Université Grenoble Alpes, with generous support of the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung
Image Credit © Museum of Contemporary History (Ljubljana), photo of a partisan printshop