Archives are places of collecting, storing and remembering – but they are also places of forgetting. Remember that final scene in Spielberg’s film Raiders of the Lost Ark when the Ark of the Covenant, supposedly containing the original stone tablets bearing God’s Ten Commandments to Moses, is crated up and stored in a giant US government warehouse full of hundreds and thousands of other “top secret” sensitive objects? It is the ultimate disappearing act.
Back in 1995, the German artist filmmaker and photographer Julian Rosefeldt visited his hometown of Munich and created a series of 15 prints called Archive of Archives. It is a deeply melancholic chronicle of lost things that no one particularly wants to find, or even perhaps, that are better left unclaimed. Here are hanging rails of mislaid umbrellas in a lost property office; morgue-like shelves of Ancient Egyptian sarcophagi not special enough for display; piles and piles of redundant GDR helmets for an army that no longer exists; stacked soft-porn Nazi artworks too shameful to show; sad jumbled corners of stateless objects in a customs office; bundled folders of analogue tax returns – with thousands of citizens’ fiscal fingerprints – gathering dust and shelves full of unattractive official gifts from long-forgotten state visitors that no one knows what to do with.
What is interesting is that some of the buildings these objects are stored in are unwanted too: a former NSDAP building now used as a museum storeroom, or the former studio of the Nazi sculptor Josef Thorak.
All are things best forgotten, but not quite ready to be thrown away.
Julian Rosefeldt is a photographer, filmmaker and artist based in Berlin. He trained as an architect in Munich and Barcelona and since 2011 has been Professor for Digital and Time-Based Media at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich.