Making it public

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3 Nov 2015, part of Making it Public, Thematic project, Piet Zwart Institute, Rotterdam

Archiving the data-body


Erkki Kurenniemi


The Future Is Not What it Used To Be, 2002, Mika Taanila


Active Archives

  • Constant, media & art, Brussels
  • Nicolas Malevé, Michael Murtaugh

Towards an archive

Erkki Kurenniemi has documented his life but not archived it in any traditional sense, and didn’t develop a systematic model for what he calls a template for all human life. In his profound techno-enthusiasm, he relies on future quantum computers to make sense of it all. By 2048, Erkki states that the technology will be ready for the advent of this new artificial form of intelligence. The quantum computer will sort by itself the documents he has been recording, capturing, filming, photographing, drawing, and talking about.

We have no quantum computers to make sense of it all today yet a series of circumstances have given the project of archiving Kurenniemi’s work some urgency. On the one hand, different important institutions of the art world have recently shown a growing interest in his career (Documenta, Kunsthal Aarhus, Kiasma, etc). On the other, the health condition of Erkki who suffered from a stroke a few years ago and that severely affected his ability to speak is a concern. According to his own wishes, the entire collection of documents he was keeping in his apartment has been transferred to the Central Art Archive of the Finnish National Gallery in Helsinki.

An archive is about to begin.

Usually when invited to work on an archive, the material has been already processed, ordered, and a classification scheme is more or less decided. Our role as “active archivists” is often to negotiate between the classifying scheme already in place and the resistance of the data to comply with it. In this case, however, it is left to us to investigate the material and try to understand its specific character and qualities.

Therefore this text will not describe an archive but a speculation on the nature of the material that constitute it, as well as a series of reflections and experiments on how to approach it.

The problems of "direct access"

We have not made an interface to the files as "originals", rather have approached the materials through tools as interlocutors.

  • Legality (shared objects, to archive someone's life is to archive many lives)
  • Quantity (does a selection represent the whole)
  • Fidelity (capturing the richness of experience / embodiment)

Software interlocutors

To consider an algorithm as an interlocutor implies an intense negotiation. Indeed for a computer program, a text, an image, a blank screen are all represented at the lowest level as zeros and ones. By using file formats, we give the programs a taxonomy of objects with which it can interact. A text format will allow the processing of lines, verbs and expressions, while an image format allows the processing of colors, contours, shapes. On Erkki’s hard drive, we found many files saved in “historical” formats and regularly transformed and exported. Through the various transformations, the taxonomy of the file changes. A text can behave as an image or an image can masquerade as a text.

The file format is not an arbitrary organization of data coming from a purely speculative view of the world. A file format is usually created and used because it is adapted to certain devices and to certain usage. When we delegate our vision to a series of algorithms and programs, we begin to realize the complexity of the connections that bind the format together, the device and the use.

Imagine a picture...

Imagine a picture. An horizontal picture of 2592 pixels wide and of 1944 pixels height. Its print size is 36x27 inches.

The picture has been taken on the 06th of November 2004 at 21h56:37. The document set contains 45732 pictures by Erkki Kurenniemi for the year 2004. Erkki took 223 pictures in 2004 between the hours of 9 and 10pm. On 45732 pictures present in the dataset, Erkki took 33712 at night.

In the folder where this file is located, there are 28 other pictures. They have been taken between 21h56:32 and the next day at 19h21:18. The folder Harrin bileet can be seen as a sequence of 21 hours 24 minutes 46 seconds of the life of a man of 63 years and 4 months at the date the picture is taken. It took 10 of a 400th second for the camera to take the picture. The blink of an eye.


This picture has been taken with a SONY camera. We have no details about the orientation of the camera.

The camera stores the pictures on an internal memory card. It names them following the pattern DSCN four digits and the extension.JPG where the four digits represent the number of the file. The file we are concerned with is named DSC02048.JPG. A search for the same filename in our local computer gives 5 results. The search took 0m 23.009s. In the 5 results, one image is the exact copy of the picture. It belongs to a folder that contains 29 images, the exact same amount of pictures as in the picture folder.

The format of the picture is a JPG for Joint Photographic Experts Group. When compressing in the jpeg format, the resolution of the color data is reduced, usually by a factor of 2. The Joint Photographic Experts Group thinks that the eye is less sensitive to fine color details than to fine brightness details.


EK ImageMagickEXIF.png

Data gallery




  • Removing the "file"
  • Listening as a social act
  • Resisting an interface



  • Amplitude Sort
  • Gradual Average
  • Spectrum Sort
  • Synthesis
  • Audiogrep
  • Interviews
  • Description of an image/folder


  • Raw diaries

Amplitude Sort

Minute long fragments of audio are sorted by relative amplitude / loudness.

Gradual Average

Gradual average.png

Spectrum Sort


Spectrum Sort


Description of a folder



some generated outcomes...

Blind annotation

the login is guest/2048

Performative archives


Knowing is not a bounded or closed practice but an ongoing performance of the world.

Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway, Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2007, p.149.


DIMI-O Video


Jonaslund proust2000.png

In Search Of Lost Time, tweeted in parts, once an hour, started in the end of October 2011 and will complete around the same time in 2017.

Jonas Lund


Reading as a performance...

Meta wiki

Reading interface...



[Margaret Hogan, blind from birth, uses a optophone to read a copy of Harper's Magazine, on page 283 of the July 1922 Harper's.](

Recording by Patrick Nye on [Optophones and Musical Print](

( [Matthew Rubery discusses the Optophone as part of the 'How We Read: A Sensory History of Books for Blind People' exhibition.]( )



The "oldest recording" of a voice, that was never meant to be heard...

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