A 10-year curatorial project on the archive of late Argentine architect Amancio Williams, conducted by the Buenos Aires-based platform Monoambiente, is the occasion to raise questions about the role and nature of archives, their relationship with the original authors and the hosting institutions — and what it means for an archive to play fair with memory, narrative, and intentions.
This essay is part of Issue #2 “Fair Play”, a series curated by KoozArch.
Understanding fairness as the utmost expression of an idealistic exchange between individuals or concepts — or what might be defined in popular culture by the notions of a supra “win-win situation” — archives are not close to conceptual or individual fairness.
A recent, if decade-long saga concerns the issue of architectural un/archiving; namely, unpacking the archive of late Argentine architect Amancio Williams before it flees the country — while also developing a program for rescuing, digitising and exhibiting — has shed new light on the traditional discussion on the subject.
Understanding fairness as the utmost expression of an idealistic exchange between individuals or concepts archives are not close to conceptual or individual fairness.
After 20 years of dealing with their father’s legacy, the Williams family was looking for an international institution that could take the task on. During the last decade of that process, we worked our way into the archive in order to imagine a possible narrative, towards digitising archives through the perspective of a small and local institution like Monoambiente, which led to a whole new digital experience on the Williams Fonds.
For us, this process grounded a series of complex matters that felt overlooked by the canonical global discussions around architectural archives and the contemporary concerns around institutions that undertake this task. Such narratives usually delve into the margins of critical abandonment of architectural documents by the local cultural community, and the subsequent cultural appropriation of international institutions that are willing to adopt as a way to rescue them.
Such narratives usually delve into the margins of critical abandonment of architectural documents by the local cultural community, and the subsequent cultural appropriation of international institutions that are willing to adopt as a way to rescue them.
Amancio Williams Archive - Digitization project. ©Martin Huberman and Monoambiente
From fair to fairy
As an idea, archive-building usually emerges within a working practice that feels that their work should be counted in and beyond its operational time, and therefore become a representation of a moment, through a selection of great projects. No archive depicts a practice in full form, since we all at some point edit ourselves, willing or not to withstand beyond our time. The archive as a grandiloquent force of editing, excludes a number of variables, contexts and dynamics which are part of every practice but might be diluted into omission by the self-indulgent archivist who considers them less relevant. No archive plays fair on the construction of a figurative yet mythical representation of itself.
No archive depicts a practice in full form, since we all at some point edit ourselves, willing or not to withstand beyond our time.
A fair amount of time
As an instantly decaying artefact, archives must then lurk for support, care and attention from others than the subjects whose work is archived. Sometimes because he or she is no longer there, sometimes because she or he has outgrown it. As a newborn infant demands attention and requires time from its care-givers, archives at one point require the warmth of families, heirs, and even everlasting bonds of guilt, to find their way into institutional safety. As unfair as it seems to live within the scope of a practice or practitioner that considers themselves important or worthy of leaving behind an archive of “cultural heritage”, it may be even more dramatic to outlive the practice itself — as a guardian of a holy grail that waits to be discovered, within a pile of boxes and paper tubes, in a dusty attic somewhere.
As unfair as it seems to live within the scope of a practice or practitioner that considers themselves important or worthy of leaving behind an archive of “cultural heritage”, it may be even more dramatic to outlive the practice itself.
Fairplay or Foreplay
As their genesis is usually grounded along the wills of a certain timeless greatness, performed while a practice is still operating, it is normal to land on a referral lexicon that consolidates the terms of the value of both assets and efforts needed to resist Oblivion. As it endures into cultural form, through institutional claims and conservational delicacy, the archive will once again emerge surrounded by a certain halo of extravaganza, demanding bureaucratic paraphernalia to counter the impulse for revision from further peers. Once again, they — or we — indulge the archived master and their masterpieces, in a “nerdy” ritual choreographed within cold and dimly-lit vaults, nitrile gloves and acid-free boxes, begging access and “authentic” permissions to cite, describe and finally exhibit the master. Obviously, this will be done in total historiographical fairness.
Text by Martin Huberman, Director of Monoambiente. Former Director of the Amancio Williams Archive Digitization Program. The architect’s fonds were donated to the Canadian Centre for Architecture in 2020 by the Williams Family
Monoambiente is a curatorial project based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, directed by architect Martin Huberman. It is defined as a consortium for experimental architecture and design. Its objective is to promote new perspectives around those disciplines through research projects on different strategies and the themes that define them. It was born as an exhibition space, where each show served as an essay and support for projective research. Its corpus was defined by the intervention of contemporary architects, designers and institutions from all over the world. Since 2012, Monoambiente has worked as a basic unit for thought, management and disciplinary activism, subjects ranging from the exhibition as a disciplinary discourse, active archivism as a fundamental cultural trait and historiographical research as a defining tool for identitarian production, it fluctuates between the realms of the digital and the physical.