Oct 23, 2013

version #1


What is Oil? Oil is a fossil fuel. Most of the oil extracted today was formed from prehistoric organisms whose remains settled at the bottoms of oceans and lakes millions of years ago. As layers of sediment covered them, the pressure on them increased which in turn increased the temperature. This process changed their chemical composition, eventually transforming them into oil. (EDF Energy, http://www.edfenergy.com/energyfuture/oil)

  • Pièrre Fernandez Arman, Le Coeur en Verre Vers, 1969, Resin and Objects, 25 x 25 x 25 cm

Pièrre Fernandez Arman: Usually a sculptor makes an original statement by cutting away in space. I didn’t invent a new way to cut space, it was more an accumulation. Objects have a tendency to auto-compose themselves. Collected in a box you shake hundreds of them—they take up certain positions, interlocking in certain ways, and I made my sculptures from that.

Cv/Visual Arts Research Archive: How did you fix the objects?

Arman: Firstly I held them with wire, nails, glue, and ultimately polyester and Plexiglas cases.

Cv/VAR: And concrete?

Arman: The use of concrete came later, and I was thrilled by that because it gave a geological, fossilized aspect to the objects.

(Cv/Visual Arts Research Archive Series 47, Arman: Conversations with Objects, Cv Publications, (London 1989/2011), 9.)

Primary Sedimentation […] This is the primary phase of archival sedimentation, in which people and organizations create, discard, save, collect, and donate materials of potential and archival interest. For example, an active scholar’s research, writing, and teaching over a lifetime of work generate a large mass of correspondence, manuscripts, lecture notes, and other materials. Academics also acquire a lot of other people’s flotsam along the way: files of college memos, committee reports, books, publishers’ catalogs [sic], drafts of technical articles sent by colleagues, scholarly journals, unclaimed student papers, and so forth. [...] To explore some of the possibilities and their consequences, let’s now follow the material of a hypothetical scholar through this first and often unreflexive phase of archival sedimentation. (M. Hill, Archival Strategies and Techniques, Sage (London, 1993), 9-10.)


In the early 1950s, Pièrre Fernandez Arman was taking photographs of ‘natural accumulations’ such as shoals of fish or logs. Some years later, in 1960, he proceeded his friend Yves Klein’s 1958 exhibition ‘Le Vide’ (The Void) with a show called ‘Le Plein’ (The Full). In this show, Arman filled the gallery with trash. This was Arman's first foray into what was to become the poubelles.

Cv/VAR: Still, even nowadays people say, ‘But it's just garbage’

Arman: Oh yes, sure. But yes and no. I discovered something when I made a garbage work in 1970, of refuse embedded in plastic. When people have been protected from the terrible aspects of garbage, the smell, the sticky texture, they can look at it with interest. I remember a workman came to my apartment, he was not at all involved in art. I could see him looking with some interest and curiosity because it was a new way to look at it.

Cv/VAR: The violence of destruction of objects in your work increased in the early '60s.

Arman: Well it may look like that, but you have to remember it was a controlled destruction, partial not total. It considered the dying of things, and to recycle and rebuild something from that. It was not a destruction that would obliterate completely. (Cv/Visual Arts Research Archive Series 47, Arman: Conversations with Objects, Cv Publications, (London1989/2011), 8.)

Our hypothetical academic succumbs to periodic urges to ‘clean house’, resulting in the physical rearrangement of some materials and the discarding of many others. Her potential archive deposit now erodes in unpredictable ways long before an archivist ever has a chance to evaluate what might be worth keeping. What she keeps and what she tosses has a direct bearing on what traces of her life's work future researchers may someday encounter in an archive. Our scholar keeps most of her correspondence, but she tosses out literally hundreds of letters from publishers and journal editors who rejected the manuscripts of her now well-known anthropological books and articles.

Erosion can also be accidental.

Flood, fire, and other mishaps can wreck havoc. (M. Hill, Archival Strategies and Techniques, Sage, (London, 1993), 11.)

[C]an you even imagine what kind of ultra-unthinkable ecological catastrophe must have happened on earth in order that we have these reserves of oil? (‘World Renowned Philosopher Slavoj Zizek on the Iraq War, Bush Presidency, the War on Terror, & More’, Democracy Now (12 May 2008). <Slavoj Žižek, http://www.democracynow.org/2008/5/12/world_renowned_philosopher_ slavoj_zizek_on>).


Initially, the poubelles contained garbage and discarded objects. But Arman also created portraits by persuading some of his friends to give up their favourite possessions, or by taking them.

For the next several weeks, whenever I couldn’t find things, like my brand new Vuitton 'envelope' bag—which I had never used—or my lion’s-head ring with a diamond, or even certain pairs of shoes, I would run and inspect the portrait to find the 'missing' items. They were locked in, glued together on a wooden panel and sealed in a Plexiglas box for all eternity along with the three cigarettes (I smoked, but not much), a copy of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, some costume jewellery, my favourite perfume (at the time 'White Line') and records by Jean-Pierre Rampal and Janis Joplin. (http://www.armanstudio.com/arman-new-46-de.html)

  • Richard HamiltonInterior, 1964-1965, Colour Silkscreen, 57 x 79 cm.

This image was developed from a photograph, a still from a film, that Richard Hamilton found lying (garbage, discarded) on a classroom floor in Newcastle Polytechnic. It is one of a number of images of interiors that followed from the artist's Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing? (1956). In 1992, the BBC invited Hamilton to show, in a short slot on a half-hour television programme, how an artist might make use of a computer in their work. Hamilton decided to use a Quantel Paintbox to recreate the experience of making the famous 1956 collage.

Looking for a subject, I turned to the old collage that seemed due for an update. It provided an opportunity to assess how life had changed since 1956, so the list of items I deemed of importance then would be a logical starting point: man, woman, humanity, history, food, newspapers, cinema, TV, telephone, comics, words, tape recording, cars, domestic appliances, space. (Richard Hamilton: Painting by Numbers, Alan Cristea Gallery, (London 2006), 11.)

While various writers connect oil with consumerism, they do so in a rather general way. This chapter tries to detail these links and especially to demonstrate the upward shift in the connections between consumerism and oil dependence within the recent neoliberal period. Overall almost all aspects of contemporary consumption entail the extensive long-distance travel of objects and of people. Consuming very many miles is central to contemporary consumerism. (J. Urry, Societies Beyond Oil: Oil Dregs and Social Futures, Zed, (London, New York, 2013), 54.)

In a quite extraordinary (and much scrutinized) passage, it is the historian's act of inhalation that gives life [...] But we can be clearer than Michelet could be, about exactly what it was that he breathed in: the dust of the workers who made the papers and parchments; the dust of the animals who provided the skins for their leather bindings. He inhaled the by-product of all the filthy trades that have, by circuitous routes, deposited their end products in the archives. And we are forced to consider whether it was not life that he breathed into 'the souls who had suffered so long ago and who were smothered now in the past', but death, that he took into himself, with each lungful of dust. (C. Steedman, Dust, Manchester University Press, (Manchester, 2001), 27.)


When individuals die, the first broad phase of archival sedimentation comes definitely to a close. The deceased write no more, discard nothing more, nor ever again tamper with the structural order of their papers and files. A new phase of sedimentation begins in which other people, third parties, do as they will with the surviving physical traces that sociohistorical investigators like yourself might someday like to analyze (M. Hill, Archival Strategies and Techniques, Sage, (London, 1993), 14.)

It is very difficult to imagine surviving physical traces that do not yield to analysis, or which might be resistant to interpretation. It is very difficult, to imagine an archive that might not give permission. That might, yet, potentially object to being read.

  • William Henry JacksonMount of the Holy Cross, 1873, Photograph, 42 x 53.5 cm

This is a photograph of a mountain, Mount of the Holy Cross, which is famously obliged to have seen upon it a cross. How is it possible not to interpret the crevice that is 750 feet wide, together with the one that is 1500 feet long, as the brand of a religious belief, burned in ice upon a mountain? How is it possible not to read a cross? Almost, it reads itself.


Externality and framing describe the way in which 'insides' and 'outsides' emerge, and change, in relation to highly political and material processes. The very patterning of elements [...] appear [...] because of (disputable and unstable) acts of separation and division, not because 'values' are imported from a pre-given outside to be applied to an equally given inside (A. Barry and D. Slater, ‘The Technological Economy’, Economy and Society, vol. 31, no. 2 (2002), 175-193; 182-183).

Almost it reads itself. Or, perhaps, it doesn't.

Although designated a national monument in 1929, Holy Cross lost the title in 1950 on account of low visitation and the relative inaccessibility of the best vantage point, which is on top of Notch Mountain. Today, designation as the Holy Cross Wilderness protects the mountain and its vicinity. Controversy lingers as to whether the right arm of the cross has deteriorated or been damaged in recent decades or whether William Henry Jackson took his photographs during a year of superb snow conditions. (J. Agnew, Colorado Above Treeline: Scenic Drives, 4WD Trips, and Classic Hikes, Westcliffe Publishers (Englewood, CO, 2002).)


Oil and gas seeps are natural springs where liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons (hydrogen-carbon compounds) leak out of the ground. Whereas freshwater springs are fed by underground pools of water, oil and gas seeps are fed by natural underground accumulations of oil and natural gas. This is a vertical slice through the Earth's crust, showing folded layers of sedimentary rocks holding oil and gas in the crest of an underground fold. Sometimes oil leaks out of the fold and forms a natural oil seep at the land surface. (United States Geological Survey, http://walrus.wr.usgs.gov/seeps/what.html)

In 2009, by chance, I came upon an archive in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. It turned out that I was to be involved with this archive, in different ways (reading, researching, preserving, writing inventories) over a period of approximately four years. The archive is named after the unpublished manuscript, Noorafkan, which lies at its heart. Noorafkan, or Irradiant in translation, was written by a Lori tribesman called Ali Mirdrakvandi during the 1940s while Iran was occupied by British and American forces. In the end, I too wrote a book, based on my work with the archive. My book is called Yeki Nabud (One There Wasn't).

Peter leaps up out of his chair and retrieves from his desk a pile of papers that lie at all angles to each other.

Of course it is very hard to identify what precisely is the meaning of Irradiant, he says. There are obviously level upon level of interpolation and addition within the main story. Yet it is quite clear that it reflects a form of Zoroastrianism, or even pre-Zoroastrianism, that is by no means orthodox - a form that allowed very much more power to the devilish Ahriman than is given to him either in the Avesta or in the Pahlavi books.

Or even in contemporary Zoroastrianism, if I am not mistaken, John Ryley dares to interject.

Peter stares at John as though he had forgotten he was there.

I have done a little reading on the subject myself Professor, Ryley adds. The Zoroastrians of India [...]

You will have read, yes, Peter says, and very good. The Parsis. Yes. This precisely is my point. I hazard that Irradiant recounts the battle between an older, pre-Zoroastrian cosmogony - in which much greater emphasis lies on the power of Darkness, the devil, that is, on Ahriman - and the more familiar Zoroastrian myth, as found in Parsiism, which privileges Ohrmazd, the power of Light and Goodness and Truth. Just as Lionish God - an authentic successor to the dark Ahriman - is not the ultimate victor in Irradiant, so the Zoroastrian myth proves that Ahriman must in the end be destroyed.

Is it possible ever to know in advance, to plan or to anticipate, what will be remembered, forgotten, or what will be discarded?

Memory is chemical and biological. [...] In the 1940s U.S. libraries—prompted by pioneers such as William Barrow and the Council on Library Resources—began laminating and de-acidifying their collections with alkaline salts to prevent the embrittlement of pages of acidic paper by hydrolytic degradation. Some books had to be sacrificed so that others could be saved. Specific notions of value meant that Richard Smith's PhD research at the University of Chicago in the late 1960s destroyed multiple remaindered copies of Cooking the Greek Way as he developed a solvent-based de-acidification process that could treat other books without their paper swelling and their ink bleeding. (M. Ogborn, 'Archives', in S. Harrison, S. Pile and N. Thrift, eds., Patterned Ground: Entanglements of Nature and Culture, Reaktion Books (London, 2004), 240.)

Is it possible even to begin to imagine what, by design, by chance, or by accident, will be held in the crest of an underground fold?

Again Peter is up and out of his seat. And consider this, he insists. In the Avesta, the Zoroastrians, or worshippers of Ohrmazd, refer to themselves as ašavan- 'followers of Truth,' while their opponents, or 'demon-worshippers', are called dregvant- (drvant-), 'followers of the Lie'. Dregvant, Mr. Ryley. Drvant. Does it mean anything to you? Does it sound familiar? It must, it must! As I said to Ali myself all those years ago, his name, D(i)rakvand, surely derives from the drugwant, which translates as the people of the lie. Ali's ancient ancestors perhaps, were a people who believed in a pre-Zoroastrian religion that bore a striking resemblance to Roman Mithraism and which undoubtedly conferred greater powers to the devil than did the Zoroastrianism with which we are familiar from the Avesta and Pahlavi books and, as you say, from Zoroastrians today. They must have shown some resistance towards the new religion, might even have refused to convert to it. Drugwant. I surmise that this was the name given to pre-Zoroastrian pagans.

One of the greatest challenges in managing digital records is their preservation. Apart from anything else, digital records have not been around long enough to assess their longevity and develop techniques to ensure their survival. A lot of research is being done in this area and keeping informed about current thinking is a good start for your digital preservation strategy. Doing nothing is not an option, particularly for those digital records which cannot be rendered into paper formats, for example databases. (M. Crockett and J. Foster, Basic Archives Skills Handbook, The Archive-Skills Consultancy Ltd, (London, 2010.) ).

John Ryley is quiet, while he tries to untangle the implications. Finally, he says: I do feel, Professor Kessler, that it would be in keeping with the spirit of Irradiant if the question as to what the book 'is' remained open for as long as possible. If not forever. If it were never, in fact, decided upon. It could be literary work, or a whimsical tale for children, or perhaps it is, as you suggest, material for scholarship in the tangled field of Mithraic Studies. Academics like to decide one way or another. Either/or. I say: Irradiant is a story, as all these things are. The problem, I find, is that too much head-knowledge, and knowledge of the past, puts us at risk of losing the Eternal Now, which is where the serious and the hilarious are One. The Eternal Now, Peter repeats. Quite so. He looks down at the palms of his hands, and then turns them over and examines his nails. Mostly, the Professor finds John Ryley's views a little too romantic to stomach.Romantic. Exotic.Maybe even Cosmic.

(For more details on the Irradiant project, see M. Motamedi Fraser, 'Once upon a Problem', in L. Back and N. Puwar, eds., Live Methods, Wiley-Blackwell (London, 2013). This extract from Yeki Nabud is inspired by: Robert C. Zaehner, ‘Zoroastrian Survivals in Iranian Folklore, Iran Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies, 3 (1965), 87-96; R.C. Zaehner, ‘Zoroastrian Survivals in Iranian Folklore’, Iran Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies, 30, (Oxford, 1993), 65-75; J. Hemming, 1994 (21 October), letter to A.D.H. Bivar, owned by Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, MSS Ind Inst Misc 40).

Piérre Fernandez Arman, Le Coeur en Verre, 1969, Resin and objects, 25 x 25 x 25 cm.

Richard Hamilton, Interior, 1964-1965, Color Silkscreen, 57 x 79 cm.

William Henry Jackson, Mount of Holy Cross, 1873, Photograph, 43 x 53.3 cm.

Above images are from the Western collection of TMOCA. Source: Masterpieces of the World's Great Artists, catalogue published by Institute for Promotion of Contemporary Visual Art, Tehran in collaboration with Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, 2009

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