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Shelf Life

Archive Event II

  Response to a one-day performance by Elena Khurtova and Marie Ilse Bourlanges 



The weight of the past unfolds itself into a network of interpretations, which constitute the incessant process of the writing of history. Discovery, handling, restoration, interpretation are operations that transform material fragments into public objects and place them in the glass box of the museum display. They become monuments of a past, which itself is a subject of our double desire to regain and to reinterpret. But what is the logic, which informs the gaze, and the hand, that determines what will make a set of material fragments interpretable objects and distinguish them from others that will become dust, refuse? Artists make visible, or animate, or re-enact archival material in ways, which could not have been possible within the field of historical sciences. Many contemporary art practises turn toward the past, not only through reflecting on its fragments, but also by looking at the constellations of operations and material infrastructures that hold them.


‘Shelf-life’ is a term widely used to imply the longevity of commodities or the time-frame between the production and expiration of goods. In this one-day performance created specifically for Looiersgracht 60, Khurtova and Bourlanges pay special attention to the idea of the “afterlife of archives”: instead of keeping the archive preserved from changes to endure time, their approach embraces its living potential, finding new purposes and continuity.

The duo recently completed a four-year project using the acquired archives of Jacques Bourlanges, who authored a theory co-relating star constellations and the geography of France. Over the course of his lifetime Jacques Bourlanges produced an extensive archive, which the artist duo restructured by adding and altering, intervening and performing with between 2014 and 2018. This project was concluded in October 2018 at their major solo show in Arti et Amicitiae leading Khurtova and Bourlanges to pose questions such as: what happens once everything has been unfolded, registered, processed, labelled, and boxed again? Does intervening with an existing archive result in preservation or destruction? Is there a ‘shelf-life’ for archives and is it really over when one says it’s over? 

Khurtova and Bourlanges

Image: Khurtova and Bourlanges