This missed the cut in the edit of a book chapter for an anthology the project team is working on. Thought it ought to appear somewhere as vaguely useful to what this project has done.
The Circus Oz Living Archive research team have had innumerable, and significant, discussions about content and curation — the very stuff of the archive — throughout the project’s conceptualisation and development. Much of this discussion is undocumented, yet has been fundamental to shaping the archive’s epistemological self conception. Each decision made appears, somehow, within, across or against the realised digital archive, yet none are included — archived — within, or near by, the archive itself. As an example, the current archive revolves around and relies upon video, and has been built from an existing physical video collection as its source media. This video collection contained recorded circus performances, rehearsals, TV advertisements, and promotions from the mid 1970s through to today. As a result of this historical range, which largely coincides with the history of videotape, there was a wide range of legacy video formats that, outside of specialist institutions, were unplayable. To digitise this collection high end specialist hardware and software was used to clean, and then transcode, the original tapes to contemporary digital film archival standards.
However, the living archive is not a film or video archive, it is a performance archive where video happens to be the medium of record. Whether this archive is conceived of as a video or a performance archive makes a deep difference to how the archive is conceived ‘archivally’. The project’s researchers spent many hours debating this, in the process engaging with epistemological and ontological ideas around archives, circus performance, live performance, and video. In the case of this particular archive what was at stake in these discussions matters in two ways. The first is that if conceived of as a video archive then its artefacts would be thought of quite differently than if it were defined as a performance archive, and as a result what matters in regards to the integrity of these artefacts would also differ. The second, which is a consequence of the first, is that the sorts of artefacts the archive conceives of itself as being an archive of, deeply affects the specific digital affordances that might or should be enabled for its imagined users.
If the Living Archive is defined as a video archive, then the integrity of the original source media becomes significant, and therefore videographic metadata such as tape type, duration, luminance, chrominance, signal, video format (PAL, NTSC, SECAM) and so on need to be recorded, preserved and treated as exemplary, first order formal metadata. It might also suggest that the basic unit of the archive, it’s ‘minimal’ artefact, should mirror its originating media and so be determined by the reproduction of each entire, original, videotape. A ‘tape’ then becomes the archive’s basic unit of currency. However, if the Circus Oz archive is regarded as a record of performance, then the integrity of the recorded performances becomes paramount, rather than the reproduction or preservation of the original quality of the video, rendering irrelevant any archival concerns with video formats, transcoding, or digitally enhancing the quality of the image.
What comes to matter in relation to the integrity of the collection changes, depending upon what the Circus Oz archive is thought to be an archive of, and therefore specific technical questions shift their focus. As a video archive transcoding, enlarging, and digitally enhancing the image may be regarded negatively, as the artefacts no longer have an authentic, quasi–indexical relation to their original. However, as an archive of performance, enhancement of the image is unproblematic as the indice that matters is the record of performance much more than the media substrate the performances happen to have been recorded upon.