We’ve been breezing through the publication on Dayanita Singh‘s File Room series and I’ve realised that no one does archives as madly as we Indians do. It made me nostalgic to say the least.
Those few times I’ve had to visit Government offices in Mumbai and have had a chance to peep into the file rooms, they all look like these. And as Singh says – they all seem to have the same ingredients of files, a table, lots of shelves and a human being in them.
It amuses me when Singh says that asthama and archives go together, as do librarians and bad lungs. But archive fever, like most compulsions has to be suffered nobly.
While other artists have explored archives in the past, what is unique about Singh’s series is that all her images are of working archives. Every file has at least one person who knows what’s in it. And though these files might not be opened for years, they are far from abandoned.
Apart from being a bookmaker who works with photography (as she describes herself), Singh also explores the architecture of how photographs are displayed and has an installation called File Museum which holds 140 of her File Room works. An interesting concept, the photographs within this structure can be rearranged to create new configurations, almost like unbound pages that the reader can move around at will.
This File Room series gives insight into how archives that are yet to be digitised are being held together solely by human memory. Though not such a bad thing, perhaps the only downside is that it makes the archive fragile and less accessible. But despite this, it is still magical to walk into a room filled with files from floor to ceiling and know that as Singh says – in one particular file is a fact that could make such a difference to someone’s life. But the file and its facts lie dormant and silent, till the right person with the right question comes along. And this could very well be a question that Google can’t help with.
With a great interview with Singh and Hans Ulrich Obrist who I love for the simplicity with which he engages is interviewees, File Room is one book I’m putting down on my must-have list.