KEYwording

Notes on Enculturation of Words and Word Practice within the Image Archive

This project stems from the contemporary debates around cultural practices and ways of annotating them in words. The primary aim of the project is to create a cross-cultural dialogue on the usage of words and their expanses in the context of myriad theories, practices, associations and actions within the field of cultural productions.

When the Arsenal published its last analogue distribution catalogue in 1987, it carried descriptions of the films as well as a series of indexes that were meant to make the films accessible through various ordering schemes. Besides lists of films sorted by directors, countries and a register of the German titles, the catalogue also included a list of keywords. Maybe due to the translation from an analogue list to a data bank or due to doubts of the terms used in the list: the distribution catalogue of 1987 was the last document that offered a search through keywords as an access to the films of Arsenal's collection. The current data bank is based on author names, film titles, countries, years of release and technical formats.
The abandonment of keywords as a tool to sort and access films equalled the doubt of the used terms. As film curator Stefanie Schulte Strathaus explained, standard categorisations used to sort films and make them accessible in a popular form would exclude many films, as the given categories do not and cannot be applied to many of the films Arsenal is collecting. To apply the given formats and conventions would mean to consciously simplify the films’ approaches and shrink their scopes. Schulte Strathaus’ remark might be a reminder that our use of language in annotating our practices is far more complex than the day to day dealing with the archive. But would we have to give up on working with keywords entirely?
The current project is to address, yet again, the space that lies between the possibilities of opening and locking the themes and practices when anchored on keywords. Keeping Arsenal's archive as the immediate context, instead of avoiding the pitfalls of applying words on films, we attempt to pluck a few words from contemporary cultural practices to rethink the ways of archiving and the struggle to keep contemporizing that what is archived.

The editors of the project, Ines Schaber and Madhusree Dutta, are cultural practitioners and commentators living in and working from Berlin and Bombay respectively. The specificities of the living experiences in these two cities and a certain common action agenda on the face of the current social order form the base of the project. Based on a compilation of erstwhile Keyword projects in the last 50 years we have built yet another list of keywords that we argue to be addressing the immediate thinking in cultural practices and discourses, and also represents, to an extent, the non-synchronisation of experiences that emerge out of different cultural realities.
Some selected words from the new list will be annotated further in order to expand their elasticity of meaning and applications. The annotations will be done in various formats – text, graphic, film still and so on and will be printed as independent booklets. The annotators / writers of the booklets will be cultural practitioners of varied registers – artists, filmmakers, curators, authors, archivists, rights activists, social scientists and physicists from Berlin and Bombay. On the final count we will produce a basket of booklets on practices of words and word-ings in the context of cultural productions.

(1) Analog, Rajula Shah (2) Transit, Madhusree Dutta (3) Streik/Strike, Sergej M. Eisenstein (4) Screen, Erik Göngrich (5) Relations [Verhältnisse] [Relaciones], Florian Wüst (6) Geschichten erzählen/Storytelling, Merle Kröger, Philip Scheffner (7) Gelände/Terrain, Riki Kalbe (Fotografie), Wolfgang Kil (Text) (8) Food, Nanna Heidenreich, Daniel Hendrickson (9) English, Arundhathi Subramaniam (10) Bazaar, Kaushik Bhaumik (11) Veil, Flavia Agnes