An Archive of the Future, An Archive for the Past
Who is not aware of the past lives in the present by continually repressing the past. For the true past appears in the present from time to time; it is—as is the present—inexhaustible.
An archive of film reels from a time long before the invention of cinema and of an unknown format was recently discovered by an Italian feminist researcher who wishes to remain anonymous. This archive was hidden in a wooden box and buried under clutter in the basement of a former women’s prison from the 17th century, which today is an important location of Italian feminist history—the Casa internazionale delle donne in Rome. In addition, shards of what seemed like a broken mirror were discovered inside the box. Upon closer examination, it appeared that this mirror’s single fragments were of an ambiguous nature: unexpectedly, they would darken and then suddenly come alive, vaguely looking like liquid crystal screens. Sometimes, they would flash for a few seconds, displaying some visual noise to then fade again and return to their opaque, mute mirroring surface.
The moving image sequences discovered on the reels (that also contain unintelligible sound) show groups of women of different ages in a large overgrown garden who are engaged in various activities, sometimes difficult to discern; their style and clothes clearly link them to France of the seventeenth century, their identities are currently investigated. The women are involved in conversations and discussions, they read and take walks, at times they talk directly to the camera, and sometimes it seems that they rehearse scenes, as if it was a theatrical performance and the garden their stage and rehearsal space.
The material is often obscure, blurry, and shattered but sometimes renders intensely colorful visual impressions—stunning images that, despite being heavily affected by the long time they have been hidden underground, display a strange, compelling, and touching beauty. The sequences were printed on an unknown material which at the moment is still being forensically analyzed—a material that is soft and translucent, sensitive to light but surprisingly to touch as well, as if it were alive, almost skin-like but not skin… a material that had managed to contain these images over three hundred years, as an investigation into its date of origin has yielded.
So far, not much is known about the author of these recordings, but there are some hints that point to a young Italian actress from the seventeenth century named Armanda, originating from Palermo in Sicily, who had moved to Paris to work with Molière and then, for unknown reasons, had ended up as prisoner in the very prison in Rome that centuries later would become the Casa internazionale delle donne, where she would finally leave her treasure.
How this young woman came into possession of a camera and that recording material at a time where such technologies did not yet exist, and how she would have learned to use it and, as well, maintain the equipment charged without electricity is a miracle, a riddle that perhaps will never be properly solved unless one believes in time travel.
At this point and as a consequence of this marvelous discovery, and despite there still being more questions than answers, some histories will most certainly have to be rewritten.
Installation A SHARD IS A FRAGMENT OF A LIFE