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by Antonio Cataldo

Curing the Archive Fever: Filling the Gaps Through Situatedness

When one works in an art institution—especially in a managerial position, it is close to impossible not to stumble into archival problems. Some face archival issues more frontally, depending on the tasks at hand. More rarely, these questions become theoretical or structural, unless there is an impending task, such as institution building, and when history is involved. It is then that we start looking for an origin, “arkhé.”  

Before delving into the argument, a short introduction is due about myself, authoring the text you are about to read. As Donna Haraway theorizes, it's always crucial to position oneself to constitute the voice from where one speaks and understand that all knowledge comes from positional and situated perspectives, even scientific ones.[1]

I'm neither from Norway (where I work) nor from Switzerland (where I studied, and from where I delivered this paper). I'm from Italy, born into a hard-working family of farmers. Specifically, I'm from the South of the Italian peninsula. A land mostly known in recent years because of the colonial legacies and spatialised histories of violence and inequality popularized by media outlets under the headliner of the migrants’ crisis in the Mediterranean.[2] The South of the country was a territory under Spanish control until the beginning of the 18th century, already at the time the site of contestation of different European interests. Italy’s unification completely dispropriated the South's wealth in 1861. The Italian South continues to be the Mezzogiorno for many. Referring to the sun at its highest intensity, Mezzogiorno was used in the postwar period to denigrate—to demean—an entire area with backwardness and laziness, once its resources, after a careful plundering, brought decision-making and affluence to the North: home to the king and the aristocracy. A sign of Modernity, the industry was fully implemented and politically backed, leaving non-industrialized agriculture behind, and the people working with it unprotected. Antonio Gramsci denounced such disproportion of power, creating subaltern positions.[3] It is also here that he claims how the “biologically inferior” southern person becomes “naturally” grounded. The southern people were deemed “incapable,” “barbaric,” and “criminal” through a literary means constructed by positivistic writers allying themselves with a purported scientific claim, repeating the same refrain.[4] The institution of a national science is the origin of this fiction. Here, another origin, “arkhé.”   

Such a national project, homogenizing people to one identity, didn't happen in Italy alone. Instead, it created the idea of the citizen in the name of presumed equality.

According to the Martinican poet, novelist, and theorist Édouard Glissant, a national language produces people. He lamented Martinique's lack of autonomous productivity because of a community without a national language—and Creole is the non-situated language. In this situation of cultural erosion, the writer must locate, according to him, a zone of authentic speech. It is the symbolic notation, a search for a seldom-seen side of reality. It is both a means of communication and knowledge transfer for the very people who cannot write. In the absence of words, Glissant believes that one draws on visual language to depict the world. Language (and, one could consequently add, documents) not only reflects but enacts power relations in society.[5]

During the past fifteen years, I have worked for several powerful institutions, the Venice Biennale, the Iuav University of Venice, and the Office for Contemporary Art Norway. I have followed how decision-making in the arts impacts what history writes and which art subsequently moves into national museums. These are complex processes that Gramsci named a “battle of position,” to resist domination with culture by creating alternative institutions and intellectual resources.[6] Gramsci was living between the two World Wars. The fascist regime jailed him, fearing his intellectual agitation. He died in prison, and we are left with the notebooks he wrote under incarceration. In Foucauldian terms, it may be read as parrhesia (to say everything, to conceal nothing), a truth-telling process that goes so far that not only is truth at risk, but the life of the person speaking.[7]

When I took my position as artistic director at Fotogalleriet, close to four years ago, I came with heavy cultural baggage. Fotogalleriet had turned forty years old the previous year, and the preceding administration had fundraised a small and not entirely sufficient sum for a telling book on the institution. Suddenly, in my first weeks of work, I had to deal with a whole history, which is also a large part of contemporary art photography of an entire country. I had a short time to tackle the task and present a realistic concept and timeline for the publication, under the aegis of the time.

Fotogalleriet is not a museum; it's a kunsthalle. Like a biennial, a kunsthalle tries to analyze what's happening now and make sense of it by putting artworks into a display to provoke discussions. As kunsthalles were created in the 19th century to put up works of art and science for public evaluation, it is the embodiment, in my eyes, of an idea of the Modern “public sphere.”

German philosopher Jürgen Habermas defined the public sphere as “made up of private people gathered together as a public articulating the needs of society with the state.”[8] In ideal terms, through acts of assembly and dialogue, such a public sphere generates opinions and positions that guide the state's affairs. It legitimates authority in “any functioning democracy” and is a realm of social life approaching the formation of public opinion because all citizens have access.[9]

I’ll return to this later, but understandably such a bourgeois affirmation of the public sphere rebuilds the ancient Greek model of inclusion and exclusion based on citizenship. If you are a citizen (and a knowledgeable one, I would add), you have the power to speak and act, enter, and affect a discussion. If you are not, your life is simply dismissible.


National Museum Of Norway. Photo: Iwan Baan

MUNCH in Bjørvika. Photo: Einar Aslaksen/MUNCH

MUNCH in Bjørvika. Photo: Einar Aslaksen/MUNCH

Museums do the opposite job of a kunsthalle. Museums have been part of a national mandate registering (“freezing”) the power transitioning from the aristocracy to the bourgeoisie. They continue to seize and win over previous cultural models. As a battle trophy, they consider what’s on display always already in the past. Museums were assigned to educate the masses and constitute the new citizen—literally, like the hospital and the prison. These Modern institutions shape people aesthetically, in how one should behave and learn about “their” history.[10] Museums were aimed at the “ordinary people” to build the consensus of the public sphere, constituting an idea of a universal “we,” the ones who have the power to speak—we, a totality for the part. “I” must mirror and subsume myself in such a “we.” Only through the institution of a “we” (the nation), the plural becomes an “I,” and the ideology of the state apparatus is at work. But, can we all recognize ourselves in such a universal “I?” Does that “I” protect all of our different identities, necessities, and struggles? Does “I” shield a migrant who the community has yet to recognize and whose life is not considered worthy of the same value as others? Does “I” consider the non-knowledgeable subject? Do “I,” the ordinary citizen, apprehend myself in the ruler portrayed in the salons of the national gallery, leading expeditions and journeying through empty landscapes, and do I see portrayed my friends (the one ruling) in the museum? Do “I” belong in the national gallery? And if so, how do I belong?

Because museums situate the struggle in the past, the rulers do not seem to be present.

In Modernity, “I” apprehend such history as a subject spatially, by moving, visually, within the exhibitionary complex

Knud Knudsen, Lot from Tokheim, ca. 1888–1895. Kraftmuseet archive collections

Knud Knudsen, Lot from Tokheim, ca. 1888–1895. Kraftmuseet archive collections


Photography significantly shaped such behavior—the idea of the new citizen in forming a national identity that had to be rooted somewhere. In Norway, Professor Emeritus Robert Meyer (Fotogalleriet's first chairman in 1979, when the institution turned into a foundation) argues against such national ideology. He shows how painters, such as Anders Edvard Disen (1845–1923), used the landscape photographs of Knud Knudsen (1832–1915) as a point of departure. Meyer claims that Norway was searching for an identity after the separation from Sweden in 1905 and looking into what could be genuinely “Norwegian.”[11] From here, Norway started branding itself as a nation dominated by nature—primarily mountains. Photography was the tool enabling the selling of such a story (and soon history) inside and outside the country. To create a new narrative. To also teach the new Norwegian citizen that the core of being Norwegian is in its majestic mountains and breath-taking landscapes, a rhetoric that perhaps, one can speculate, continues to this day. (I purposefully use the pronoun “he” here because up until 1913, the right to vote was, not surprisingly, unfortunately, a male privilege). Notably, photography is the tool for a nation attaining self-recognition. Meyer uttered such a photographic construct in 1989 when he executed (curated) the project The Forgotten Tradition, which included an exhibition at Oslo Kunstforening and a book on the emergence and development of Norwegian landscape photography up to 1914.

When I started to look into the archives of Fotogalleriet in view of the institution’s and photography history’s book to come, these were the issues I wanted to explore. What kind of role does photography play in the formation of other institutions in our times? Which mythologies does it help build—also once discussions exit small institutions and enter museums' collections?

In Fotogalleriet’s case, the answer to these questions seemed readily available. The institution had just gotten an archive in 2017.[12] One could draw and compile items from these systematized documents and make a book (editing or curating existing material into a publication), or at least weaving together its most central arguments by navigating it.


Fotogalleriet Archives, 1977–ongoing, installation view from  Looking into (our) Archives, 2–25 June 2017. Istvan Virág/Fotogalleriet


Fotogalleriet Archives, 1977–ongoing, installation view from  Looking into (our) Archives, 2–25 June 2017. Istvan Virág/Fotogalleriet


Fotogalleriet Archives, 1977–ongoing, installation view from Looking into (our) Archives, 2–25 June 2017. Istvan Virág/Fotogalleriet


Fotogalleriet Archives, 1977–ongoing, installation view from Looking into (our) Archives, 2–25 June 2017. Istvan Virág/Fotogalleriet


Fotogalleriet Archives, 1977–ongoing, installation view from Looking into (our) Archives, 2–25 June 2017. Istvan Virág/Fotogalleriet


Fotogalleriet Archives, 1977–ongoing, installation view from Looking into (our) Archives, 2–25 June 2017. Istvan Virág/Fotogalleriet


When the institution started to work toward organizing these archives in 2016 as Fotogalleriet was about to celebrate its jubilee, the staff brought up many amassed documents from its basement (for the sake of reality, let’s imagine such underground deposit less proper than a museum storage area)—mostly things which had been “left around” for decades (the excess, the momentarily superfluous, the refusés). As it was reported to funders, “The standard of the current archive is critical and will be inaccessible for the future unless we quickly take the initiative to preserve it.”[13] Before being archived (on the verge of an origin), the archive possesses democratic equity among its elements. The archivation process layers and hierarchises. The boxes contained board minutes, case files, original correspondence, budgets, letters between different institutions, press releases and press reviews, exhibition documentation, CDs/VHS tapes, slides/positives, posters, and other ephemera. There were also sparse exhibition applications and financial documents, and depending on the latest state regulations, the latter were not supposed to entirely enter the archives as they were supposed to be stored only for a limited time. One can only imagine that one of the crucial parts of an institution, its economic management, is made invisible and compartmented in archives; it fades into the background at best or is removed altogether from the public eye. Because of the role given to economic conditions, when we see the current archive, we are told, through its material absence, that economics does not structure an institution, what it can achieve, and how it has achieved its current status in history. The Fotogalleriet archive also intersected with other collections and records (like the union representing art photographers, for instance, with whom it shares a large part of its history).[14] Along the way, it had to be “considered how much to separate.” Some of the case documents already had archival numbers, probably from preceding organizational systems.

Fotogalleriet immediately claimed that this physical “paper” collection reflected the development of the Norwegian photography art scene since its start (its origin; its commencement). And we can read its ambitions immediately: “The material will be made available by setting up a functioning archive system for researchers, historians, communicators, students, and other interested parties as well as form the basis for an exhibition […], and a publication on the occasion of the 40th anniversary.”[15]

I would include the library collection in the overarching archival project (my claim on the overall institution building). During the preceding years, the library was systematized according to the national library system, becoming part of the national collections. The library, though, mainly includes Western photography history focusing on the 20th and 21st centuries and incredibly little on a wide variety of other narratives outside the Western canon. At the end of 2018, I spoke with artist, writer, and art editor Nina Strand to intervene within the Fotogalleriet's book collection, to start identifying its structural problems. We walled the library off and left a selection of books out alongside a video statement by the artist calling for a more extensive history to unfold.[16] Currently, the library is temporarily inaccessible (or not easily accessible) as a call for historical justice. If we can't tell more stories than one, the dominant narrative should not prevail.

In exhibiting a particular showcase of documents, an idea of publicness ensues. Therefore, documents make public what was already public, independently of their content. They also produce a view that that publicness is all that exists. In addition, the kind of access the archive will have determines the final categorization (or publicity) of the collection, and what can enter collections. The archival categorization hints at an institutional desire to be a small museum, an artist-run space, or a private entity. It not only creates history, but first and foremost its genealogy of history.


Following conversations with national and international repositories, including libraries and museums, and taking into consideration the highest archival standards, today, if one looks into the Fotogalleriet archives, one finds a series of boxes precisely divided into three categories:




In classifying a very “disordered” past, tradition is built and projected into the future as a univocal category. Because everything needs to fit into the newly established order of things, history is “normalized” accordingly.

The normal individual—Fanon says—“is someone who does not make a fuss. But the trade unionists who protest and make demands, are they not normal?”—he asks.[17]

It is here that we can read the origin, the commencement in Derridean terms.

Derrida was confronted with a similar issue when he spoke in London in 1994. He first delivered the famously titled “Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression” at the Freud Museum. Derrida tries to understand what happens when Freud’s last home becomes a museum: the passage from one institution to another. A double take is at stake. In Freud's case, what is to be archived: Sigmund Freud, the individual practicing a discipline, or the domain itself—psychoanalysis (the practice of an institution and the birth of a field of knowledge)? Who or what is the origin? The individual or the institution?[18] Similarly, with Fotogalleriet, what is to be archived? Is it the singularity of the institution's approach or the birth of a field of knowledge?

Through translations, mistranslations, and misunderstandings, “Archive Fever” has become a pivotal text of the past decades. Especially with the fall of European totalitarian regimes in the 1990s, open access to state archives, repositories of visual and other knowledge, surveillance, and circulation of previously unknown material has become the “sickness,” the disorder of our times.[19] Such material, from the 1990s, comes to fruition, not because of caring but because of lack of care. Institutions were collapsing and losing their original purposefulness. As a result, vast repositories of knowledge suddenly flooded outside the existing national jurisdictions and peoples. Is this what we call the infirmity of archives?

An archive is a place of consignment, the house or residence of the ruling officers, or archons, as we learn from Derrida. Because of their authority, they kept official documents in their household in ancient Greece. The archons guarded these documents: they were both keepers and interpreters. The power is not only in possessing this material—possibly for public use (where the concept of the public is yet to be fully defined)—but in the power of editing them. It is a document of the inscription of the law on the subject. (“Modern times, it has been said, are characterized by the individual put on file,” Fanon would add.[20]) The archives indicate where the records are stored. One can potentially double-check them, a sort of counterproof—not necessarily an original, but the assigned power to the origin (there may be different beginnings, but this is what the authority has marked as “the beginning”). The difference is crucial and perhaps why Derrida claims radical finitude in the archive, the possibility of forgetfulness (not only direct repression): the threat of aggression and the destruction drive that comes not from the outside but is inside. He names such possibility of (self-)destruction “mal d'archive”—archive fever—drawing from the death drive Freud had conceived regarding the formation of the subject. It comes out: the archive is infected—the infection is (in) the records.

Nevertheless, Derrida maintains (or calls up) Freud's death drive principle because this principle is at once the condition and the possibility for the archive to exist. What moves its desire constitutes its potential danger and the very possibility of its destruction. The death drive affects the archive opening onto the future, its dependency concerning what will come, in short, the ties of knowledge and memory it promises.

“Arkhé,” “the originary” (the same word used by Derrida for the root of the archive), in Greek also means “to lead” and, finally, to rule, as we learn from political theorist Hannah Arendt. Arendt analyzes such a term when studying the concept of freedom. Arendt makes arkhé, the origin, also coincide with “to act” in Latin. Beginning, leading, and ruling are the outstanding qualities of a free person, she says.[21] Intensely preoccupied with the impending totalitarianisms of the 20th century, Arendt could not make freedom coincide with the idea of the sovereign, though. Sovereign would have meant a status recognition for the few who already possess that privilege, the ones ruling. But what about the others, those who were not yet deemed free? Or similarly, and even worse, those under whose sovereign territories and jurisdictions they had been dispossessed of their sovereignty, or even killed, provoking the mass refugee movement she analyzed so incredibly close in WWII. Being free and beginning something new coincide in her words. Against major philosophers preceding her, she would say freedom is not free will—because history demonstrated the failure of such a statement.[22] Free will is not enough to deem yourself free.

Is there a non-sovereign subject that can be free, she asks? Because sovereign means to submit to other people's will. If one wants to be free, sovereignty is what one should renounce first. “Freedom is experienced in the process of acting and nothing else.”[23] Acting. “Arkhé”—and its corresponding Latin agere. Freedom is the capacity to produce something new—to be experienced in “spontaneity.”[24] Only those who were rulers but are no longer ruling can experience freedom—she condenses in this paradoxical Modern concept of democracy—an aspiration for equality, a community of equals who do not govern anymore but produce the conditions for freedom.

In a recent interview, Chilean cultural theorist Nelly Richards described the importance of the archives of memories, how they enter into radical democratic demands and requests for social justice, even when state apparatuses halt these demands. Such is the case of the wave of mass demonstrations in Chile in 2019, where the youth stormed the streets demanding a complete and overdue change in the system. But, unfortunately, the violent police control of the roads subsequently followed by Covid-19 regulations suffocated assemblies in public space. When this happened, Richards felt a freezing moment of political rights and state abuse of power. She uses the word “archive” concerning the revolts in the sense of reservoirs of dreams, experiences, and passions that we should hold in our memory.[25]

The question is, how do we cure memory? Is material tamed in a documentary source that preserves the destruction of its power enough?

I'm moving in and out of the exhibition space, not by chance but because we can't understand one without the other. We can't understand the aspirations guiding emancipatory principles—even the hegemony of museums with their roles of mass education—without addressing these power structures of the state apparatus, because we always work within given economic and consequent social frameworks, and hence institutions.

To continue, for Derrida, the issue is the power of (the disease, the fever) already contained in the structure of the archive. For Richards, it is how to preserve memory, not how to destroy its power. Do the two coincide? Or do the two have real antagonistic positions? One is an archive constituted by material documents. At the same time, the other is a living archive, something which is both at work (when people gather on the street) but ungraspable because it relies and remains dependent on the assembly of people to secure its force, to not fade away permanently. Do we need to take the street, “to act” in Arendt’s terms, on the past? Is this the cure? Or it is simply pushing to cure in a future which is messianic—always about to come but never today.

We can also ask: which lives are lost even before they are lost in (they enter) archives? Which lives are dispensable before archives mark their passage? Are there protocols focusing not only on the living materiality of the archives but mourning other bodies, subjects, and lives that are not bearing enough value to be safeguarded? How do we grasp these lives?

In the case of Fotogalleriet, you are told today that the institution runs through exhibitions, four to five a year. Is this a consequence of the archival process? If one digs further, in 1977, the institution had a more open-ended structure—spontaneous, in Arendt’s terms. But, of course, that doesn't matter anymore when the container counts more than the content. The political motivations are gone. The exhibition as a structure becomes the core of the institution. A new archival beginning, “arkhé.” It is not a small step because this sets the pace both for the future and to recover the past. We are told very little about the background structures: how the institution formed, its ruptures, what was not working, which exhibitions didn't happen, and why. Under which material conditions did the institution work? Was the exhibition space always such a “unitary” space in the span of four decades?

If the exhibition is the only variable in this equation, all these structural questions count incredibly little without other intersecting factors—and documents—challenging the notion of its structure.

We need to open these questions because, otherwise, we think institutions are unmovable entities. The artists (the art photographers in Fotogalleriet's case) as free individuals are “natural” givens and not subjects that fought for recognition. If we follow such an archive predicament uncritically, we will believe that society constantly organizes in the same way: the way we know it in the now, today. That Fotogalleriet always had an artistic director, a board, employees, technicians, cleaners, a landlord, and public funding. In turn, we would believe similar institutions, governmental and non-governmental, have always acted in the same way. But institutions are human constructions and aggregations.

Though the sickness is clear with Derrida, we are offered no cure.

In sifting through documents left in excess—uncatalogued—I came across traces of three avenues of investigation that did not fit the unspoken, unconscious narrative of the newly created archive, and perhaps its new given beginning, “arkhé:”

1. The discursive aspect of the institution—present since the beginning, because the community had to speak about art photography to ground a social acceptance of an emerging concept;

2. A diverse aggregation of people backing instituting the institution with surprisingly varied backgrounds and interests—all looking to fill a gap within a given cultural landscape;

3. Institutional networks behind such collective desire, unveiling economic and material conditions impacting both the institution's governance and decision-making.

Is what’s left in excess the call for a new “arkhé,” the archival cure? Or are images and not words the cure?

Images have their grammar. A crucial struggle took place—laboured—in the 1970s for artists to move away from “traditional” work as newspaper correspondents or reporters (or page fillers to illustrate words) to the exhibition space. When one looks at Fotogalleriet's statutes, the words “photography as a free personal tool for artistic expression,” are reported. The formulation of “freed” photography often returns because newspapers continued to subsume images as an “objective” tool illustrating words. Then one understands that Fotogalleriet was creating opposition to what existed in a locale, Oslo, in the 1970s. The working group behind the institution worked agonistically to existing institutions (the newspaper is an institution) because there was nothing in between. Photography served the newspaper's ideology. Photography had no freedom to speak its own language before institutions like Fotogalleriet instituted a new public space. These are the late 1970s, where revolutionary movements such as the Red Army Faction in Germany, the Red Brigades in Italy, and the Indigenous revolts of the Sámi people in Alta taking place in the Western world are reaching the height of their anger. The youth is rebelling against an instrumentalized nationhood, used and abused in international imperialism, and calling the individual citizen under the collective “we”—implicating antagonistic subjects under the sovereign principle. Newspapers were—and most often still are—an ideological apparatus of the state, with little means to speak other truths.  

We can't understand these shifts, even today, without understanding the material labour conditions guiding these processes—these historical motivations constituting the formation of archival material. Why was photography moving away from the magazine page into the kunsthalle exhibition? What kind of economic forces pushed this shift? And what kind of production modes were in place?

Do I find myself, “my” story in archives?

Marthe Ramm Fortun, When I’m not near the slide I love, I love the slide I’m near, 2019. Photo: Fotogalleriet/Julie Hrncˇírˇová © Marthe Ramm Fortun/BONO


Rarely, I would say, unless one is classified like a criminal or belongs to a specific class, allowing one to end up in an archive. Perhaps Instagram and Facebook have altered this presential logic because we have all become potential criminals (though they call us consumers and not criminals, in marketing terms. The derivative use of social media information may prove the contrary). Most people's stories, fortunately, or unfortunately, are forgotten because they are not considered virtuous (worthy of notice). And if they are registered, they are for the wrong reasons, or for sure, most often unconsciously. There is a lot of unconscious use of images today, provoking significant identity and psychological traumas (sickness provoked by images).[26]

The mass registration of common's people lives has to do with photography and anthropology in Modern times (police records included).[27] Up until the arrival of cheap cameras, one was either the subject of study, or the one taking the picture. Otherwise, an image would not end up in an archive—or at best, in a family album.

Ellisif Wessel, who passed away in 1949 and whose work arrived at Fotogalleriet in 1978, sits at the intersection of the two. At the beginning of the 20th century, Wessel started a “documentary effort,” especially as a photographer of Indigenous Sámi culture. When traveling around the country, she also became intensely aware of the widespread poverty in the region, bringing her to political activism—a double-edged sword. However, her images are some of the only accounts of Finnmark county, which the Soviet and German forces bombed and burned down during WWII in their battle to control the region.

Bente Geving, from Anna, Inga and Ellen series, 1985. © Bente Geving/BONO


Bente Geving, from Anna, Inga and Ellen series, 1985. © Bente Geving/BONO


Pages from Antonio Cataldo (ed.), Conversations on Photography, Heidelberg: Kehrer Verlag, 2021, including an image of Ellisif Wessel, Children from Sandnes, ca. 1900. From the left: Margit Menna, Mathis O. Noste, Inga Menna, Bigga Noste, Ellen Inga Noste.  Courtesy Grenselandmuseet


When I had a conversation with Bente Geving, a Sámi artist who held an exhibition at Fotogalleriet in 1988, with photography, sound, and other material, we spoke about the historical images that Wessel took of the Sámi peoples.[28] Geving's take on her Sámi family in the area is equally unique. Almost in opposition to Wessel's socio-documentarian perspective, she pushes away from the anesthetized positioning of images in the museum's space and archives. She calls for the artifacts' situatedness (including images) to give a haptic context in order to enable a sensorial reconnection to peoples and their cultural belonging. The museum—archive of a sort—materially dispossesses communities and their meaning system.

Geving traced a photograph of her grandmother (which she had photographed towards the end of her life to bridge Sámi life and pride) taken by Ellisif Wessel during her wanderings in Sápmi a century before.

The work of Geving also intersects with that of Marianne Heske, who had an exhibition at Fotogalleriet in 1978, ten years earlier, on phrenology. Though Heske can be considered among the forerunners for bridging conceptual art in the country, this work may be seen as an interesting comment on Norway in the 1970s—of course, in my reading. I don't think Heske has ever referred to this work in the way I'm looking at it.

In a European scientific fashion, in the positivist movement (not dissimilar from the prejudicial claims in the Italian South from where this article began), phrenology was used on Sámi people to instigate false claims of backwardness (most certainly, and similarly, in an attempt to assert colonial rule and make claims on ownership over their land by deeming one in “infancy” in relation to the other—claiming their inability to take proper care of themselves). Modern science works in alliance with power (academia is a supporting part of power, also in Haraway’s sense). People who had rebelled against the process of Norwegianisation (forced cultural assimilation), such as Aslak Hætta and Mons Somby in 1852, were considered criminals. They were among the instigators of a peasant rebellion against local authorities.[29] (In)famously prosecuted and beheaded, after execution, their skulls entered the Anatomical Institute in Oslo as the first Sámi specimens in the university collection.[30] The request for burial came after a long struggle, with demands by relatives sent as early as 1976. Their skulls were finally removed from their repositories in Copenhagen and Oslo, respectively, and were buried only in 1997.

So, what’s the cure when repositories of supposed emancipatory freedom “legitimate the monstrum of a historical study that produces its own original documents”?[31] Arché, the origin, cannot be situated either in a chronology or in a metahistorical sense. Like “the child in psychoanalysis expresses a force that continues to act in the psychic life of the adult; and just as the ‘big bang,’ which is supposed to have given rise to the universe, is something that never stops transmitting its background to us.”[32] Like the “big bang” though, we can imagine it, but we can’t locate it as a substance, it is not a given.

Against all evil and sick within society, Foucault suggests, via Socrates, to start pushing people to take care of the self, and to teach others to do so. If we follow Foucault’s argument, there is a cure, because the disease consists of “a false opinion.” Another suggested cure is to escape what Socrates refutes,[33] or “through logos, through good reasoning.”[34] The activity of epimeleia “(of the care of oneself and others, of the care of souls) may take on the most urgent, intense, and necessary form.”[35]  In many cases, it is precisely a false opinion that puts the possibility of a liveable life in danger, when a soul may become ill. Similarly to Arendt’s definition of freedom, taking care of the other, curing, does not necessarily mean acting in the political sphere: Socrates wants people to “take care of them so that they learn to take care of themselves.”[36] It is a cure by philosophy of the disease of false discourse, of the “contagion of common and dominant opinions, of the epidemic of prejudices.”[37] To serve society, one needs to endanger one’s own life first, not repeat epistemic justifications, denying what’s commonly known or accepted as the designated origin.

In its organisational form, the “archive-specific status of a piece of information”[38] is stored as material data with no single item valorised per se. The accumulation principle ensures the promise of a more equitable future. In retrospect, we think that we can understand the limitations of a specific historical time because of this principle. The archival form believes that the past's desire can always “speaks truth to power.”[39] It is a trace of an act of love gone. In such principle, archiving comes close to “collecting” and therefore close to the work of a museum.[40]

In archives, we create an algorithm that express a system of correspondences among accumulated material, creating relations where the x (the presupposed unknown, the origin) of its organisational structure remains primarily unknown, unconscious. Unspoken repetition stabilises meaning. What about the vocal? The echo? To go back to that infancy that is not yet word, yet it resonates with words.

Adriana Cavarero theorizes how the etymology of the Latin vox is vocare, “to call,” or “invoke.”[41] It is an invocation addressed at the other, at another voice, at an ear that receives it. At birth, the infant, with her first breath, invokes a voice to respond, calls for another voice. It is not communication, but pure vocality. Cavarero also leans upon Arendt to address how what makes speech political is not signification, expression, or communication. Instead, the political essence of speech consists in revealing to others the uniqueness of each speaker. Speech qualifies this self-revelation as political: something which is materially shared in a space, “whereupon those present show to one another, in words and deeds, their uniqueness and their capacity to begin new things.”[42] It opens a horizon of plurality—not pluralism. A new beginning, arché. “The recognition of the pluralistic instance—through which the abstract universality of democracy is opened to the concrete reality of differences—does not get rid of the ontology of the individual.”[43]

To call, to breathe together, instead of archiving, is the task of living images. Here, to move away from museum practices, deemed to categorisation and historicisation, invoke voices meant to put people together (bringing their voices to the fore), even in a book form. People came together in the space of the page, with one another, some for the first time. Not to archive, but to act an arché, the possibility of an active origin, constantly movable into renewed presentness. The archive barely served as an echo, the nullifying of a body towards the definitive dissolution of a uniqueness that, as echo, the archive does not possess. We are not looking for individual successes in such a process but unveiling collective inspirational strategies (inspirare, breathing together). We carry forward demands for justice that somebody else can no longer maintain.

The task of building a public space is not in structuring documents and their reading. It is in questioning their very existence. The fever should not remain in the archives. It is attached to material bodies. Bodies who are seeking justice.

Antonio Cataldo holds a Ph.D. in Curatorial Studies. Since August 2018, Cataldo has served as the Artistic Director of Fotogalleriet, an independent and publicly-funded institution, the oldest kunsthalle for photography in the Nordic region. Through exhibitions, discourse, and research for several internationally reputed organizations, Cataldo has actively challenged institutional models, their governing structures, and the representational social role of images. Cataldo studied with philosopher Giorgio Agamben in Venice, Italy, obtaining his MA in 2006. Cataldo sits on the boards of Kunsthalles in Norway and the Sandefjord Kunstforening Art Award jury.


[1] Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,” Feminist Studies 14, no. 3 (1988): 575–99.

[2] A version of my text which I’m presenting here in a more essayistic form was initially delivered in June 2021, amid the Covid-19 pandemic. At the time, problematic ideas of cure were practiced and used to further restrict access to the West from other areas of the world based on citizenship connected to the land. Here I am mainly pointing out to media representation of a region, which does not necessarily address larger historical power structures putting lives in danger based on pure provenance univocally determined by the West. Ida Danewid, “White innocence in the Black Mediterranean: hospitality and the erasure of history,” Third World Quarterly 38, no. 7 (2017) : 1674-1689.

[3] “Alcuni temi della questione meridionale” (Some Aspects of the Southern Question) is a manuscript which was published in 1930 for the first time in Paris in the magazine Stato Operaio. Antonio Gramsci, “Some Aspects of the Southern Question,” (1926), Antonio Gramsci: Selections from Political Writings (1921-1926), trans. and ed. Quintin Hoare (New York: International Publishers, 1978), 441-62.

[4] Gramsci mentions Enrico Ferri, Giuseppe Sergi, Alfredo Niceforo, and Paolo Orano—all from the positivist school of criminal anthropology established by Cesare Lombroso. Criminal anthropology sought to replace religious notions of crime as caused by sin and evil; it also presented itself as a counterpoint to a discourse on crime that approached it from a rights-oriented and legal point of view. In the place of religion and law, Lombroso put science. Lombroso had volunteered as a doctor in the revolutionary forces in Calabria—Italy's southernmost mainland province, the toe of the boot that is the Italian peninsula—during the Risorgimento, the struggle for Italian unification. There, he had been shocked by the population's poverty, malnutrition, and illiteracy. This, along with his exposure to Darwin's ideas about evolution, was a formative intellectual experience for him. In common with many European intellectuals of the 19th century, he espoused a casual mix of evolutionary beliefs and racism, assuming a racial hierarchy “stretching from African blacks at the bottom of the evolutionary ladder to European whites at the top.” Mary Gibson, "Biology or Environment? Race and Southern 'Deviancy' in the Writings of Italian Criminologists, 1880-1920,” in Italy's “Southern Question”: Orientalism in One Country, ed. Jane Schneider (New York: Berg, 1998).

[5] Édouard Glissant, “Pedagogy, Demagogy,” in Caribbean Discourse. Selected Essays, trans. J. Michael Dash, (Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1989), 180.

[6] Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, Volume 3. trans. J.A. Buttigieg (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2007), 168.

[7] Michel Foucault, The Courage of the Truth (The Government of Self and Others II), Lectures at the Collège De France 1983–1984 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 12.

[8] Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger with Frederick Lawrence  (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991), 176.

[9] Paul Rutherford, Endless Propaganda: The Advertising of Public Goods (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000), 18.

[10] Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge (Routledge: London and New York, NY: 1992), 174.

[11] “We’ve got Pacifiers Instead of Culture in this Country,” Robert Meyer in Conversation with Helle Siljeholm, in Conversations on Photography, ed. Antonio Cataldo (Heidelberg: Kehrer Verlag, 2021), 125–137.

[12] I’ll move between the singular and the plural for the archive, because I see archives as a set of strategies beyond what is being claimed as the archive, as a univocal tool. Also, in the institutional press releases for the presentation of the archive project in 2017, the vocabulary switches between singular and plural.

[13] From Fotogalleriet application to the Arts Council Norway in 2015 archived as “ES451832”.

[14] The Norwegian Association for Fine Art Photographers—FFF.

[15] Application “ES451832.”

[16] Nina Strand’s project “Thumbing The Library: Gardening Networks” was on view at Fotogalleriet from 3 November 2018 to 12 January 2019.

[17] Franz Fanon, “The Meeting Between Society and Psychiatry,” in The Psychiatric Writings. From Alienation to Freedom, eds. Jean Khalfa and Robert J.C. Young and trans. by Steven Corcoran (London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), 371.  

[18] Jacques Derrida, “Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression,” Diacritics 25, no. 2 (Summer 1995): 9–63.

[19] The meaning of archive shifts direction in the 1990s, as artist and theoretician Hito Steyerl addresses in a series of writings and lectures in the late 2000s. Hito Steyerl, “Politics of the archive. Translations in film,” https://transversal.at/transversal/0608/steyerl/en. In this article, Steyerl affirms, “To educate in common means building a common literacy and, more often than not, a common nation.”

[20] “The Meeting Between Society and Psychiatry,” 374.

[21] Hannah Arendt, “Freedom and Politics: A Lecture,” Chicago Review 14, No. 1 (Spring 1960): 28-46.

[22] Ibid., 40.

[23] Ibid., 41. Giorgio Agamben would interpret such a notion of acting as also the possibility of non-acting, “inoperosity,” which is the maintaining acting in potence. See Giorgio Agamben, The Use of Bodies, trans. Adam Kotsko, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016. (“Work and Inoperativity,” 245-248).

[24] Arendt, “Freedom and Politics: A Lecture,” 42.

[25] Marcelo Expósito, “We must bring back desire in the midst of hardship.” A conversation with Nelly Richard, L’Internationale, 3 August 2020, https://www.internationaleonline.org/opinions/1040_we_must_bring_back_desire_in_the_midst_of_hardship_a_conversation_with_nelly_richard/.

[26] Foucault would use the term “infamous lives” for lives registered in the public domain—archives—accidentally. He sees positivity in such a process because at times is the only way we get to know of others’ lives—lives that were otherwise not considered worth living. See Michel Foucault, “Life of Infamous Men,” in Michel Foucault: Power, Truth, Strategy, ed. Meaghan Morris and Paul Patton (Sydney: Feral, 2006), 76–91.

[27] Melissa Banta and Curtis M Hinsley, From Site to Sight: Anthropology, Photography, and the Power of Imagery (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 2017).

[28] “Memories Return When Least Expected.” Bente Geving in Conversation with Antonio Cataldo, in Conversations on Photography, ed. Antonio Cataldo (Heidelberg: Kehrer Verlag, 2021), 109–124.

[29] Roald E. Kristiansen, “The Kautokeino Rebellion 1852,” Sami Culture (2013) http://www.laits.utexas.edu/sami/dieda/hist/kautokeino.htm.

[30] The skull of Hætta was exchanged for two Inuit skulls from Copenhagen University in 1856 as reported by  Audhild Schanche. See Audhild Schanche, “Sami Skulls, Anthropological Race Research and the Repatriation Question in Norway,” in The Dead and their Possessions: Repatriation in Principle, Policy and Practice, ed. Cressida Forde et al. (London: Routledge, 2002), 47–58.

[31] I’m referring here to Agamben’s study of genealogy and history, and the danger of thinking in chronological terms. See Giorgio Agamben, “The Sacrament of Language: An Archeology of Oath,” in Giorgio Agamben, The Omnibus Homo Sacer (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2017), 307.

[32] Ibid., 308.

[33] Foucault, The Courage of the Truth, 107.

[34] Ibid., 108.

[35] Ibid., 110.

[36] Ibid., 110.

[37] Ibid., 348.

[38] Blake Stimson, “Instituttionality as Enlightenment,” in Pascal Gielen (ed.), Institutional Attitudes. Instituting Art in a Flat World (Amsterdam: Valiz, 2013), 149.

[39] Ibid., 150.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Adriana Cavarero, For More than One Voice: Toward a Philosophy of Vocal Expression (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005), 169.

[42] Ibid., 189.

[43] Ibid., 191.

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Issue 53

Situated Knowledges – Curating and Art on the Move

by Ronald Kolb and Dorothee Richter

by Jeanne van Heeswijk and Whitney Stark

by Lee Weinberg and Alison Green

by Basia Sliwinska and Caroline Stevenson

by Debe Sham and Georgia Kennedy

by Bo Choy and Chloe Ting

Nadim Abbas, Rose Li, Edward Sanderson (with Fiona Lee Wing-shan), Lang Tu (with Anouchka van Driel)

by Noit Banai and Dani Gal

by Ronald Kolb and Dorothee Richter