Transmedial and Transnational (Re-)Contextualisation: The Atlas Group Archive as an Instance of Traveling Memory

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Walid Raad's The Atlas Group Archive (1989-2004) is a transmedial, fictional 'archive' which supposedly encompasses donated testimonies on the war in Lebanon (1974-1991), including diary logs, photographs (some of which contain notes), and videos, archived on In this case, the fictionality of the archive creates an archive where no real archive exists. The entire archive is transmedially constructed, in which the layering of content in each image becomes the key feature. There is, for example, a document named "Let's be honest the weather helped" (1998) contains a series of black-and-white images of buildings with colored dots on them, which supposedly signify various types of bullet hits (see fig. 1). The dots cover the whole area of bullet impact, so this media filter makes it impossible to verify if there were indeed bullet hits, and let alone which color the bullet tips were. The transmediality of the project is thus a means in conveying the impossibility of an archive and the unrepresentability of trauma. Medial borders are crossed through layering of content, reinforcing and destabilizing the truth value of testimony. Apart from being published on the website, Raad's project has been exhibited in different galleries around the world.

The Atlas Group Archive can be seen as an instance of 'traveling memory' (Erll), a term to describe the dynamics of commemoration in the current age of globalization. Analyzing The Atlas Group Archive as an instance of traveling memory, I argue that the internal and external institutional context of the archive largely influences its ability to become a traveling memory which "has brought forth global media cultures" (Erll). I compare the effects of the different interfaces in which this work has appeared. Apart from being published on a website, Raad's project has been exhibited in art galleries around the world. Academics have often pointed to the ways in which The Atlas Group Archive plays with the blurring of fact and fiction. I take this observation to the next level by reframing it as the engagement with decontextualisation and recontextualisation. In my analysis, each context becomes an integral part of the images, a layer of content providing meaning. In the online archive, the images function as an icon of the material notebook, and the black background of the images functions as an index, signifying that the images are uncropped and therefore authentic . In the context presentation of the exhibition, however, these images function as icons and index primarily to show that absence of their referentiality. The notebook does not exist and the black background is part of the artwork. I analyze the project's narrative function's using Manovich's criteria for narrativity in databases: the distinction between 'text', 'story', and 'fabula'. Though highly transmedial and fragmented, The Atlas Group Archive accommodates to this model, as it uses multimedia (a 'text' across media borders) to narrate the Lebanese war ('story'), colored by narration of events experienced by actors ('fabula'), and together these three elements form an archival format. According to Benjamin, the opposition between information and storytelling resides in the fact that "while the [storyteller] was inclined to borrow from the miraculous, it is indispensable for information to sound plausible" (101). In the case of The Atlas Group Archive, we might say that these two categories are combined. The fabula is miraculous, but the contextualisation of text and story into information makes the unity plausible. The Atlas Group Archive's narrative functions by the virtue of fragmentation, which becomes an integral part of the content: it fills gaps while at the same time creating them.

(source: author's abstract)

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Hannah Ackermans