Archival Ragpicking – On the act and art of personal archiving in the age of total capture

“Archival Ragpicking – On the act and art of personal archiving in the age of total capture” – A talk by Jacek Smolicki

Technologies of today allow us to capture and store all kinds of information about our everyday lives regardless the time and space; on a 24/7 basis. With every new app, social media service and life-logging gadget that enters our techno-cultural horizon, the range of archival modes into which we are getting ever closely entangled keeps expanding. Whether we want or not, voluntarily and involuntarily, we have all become subject to a number of data aggregation algorithms that yield both structured data repositories and unstructured data exhaust. Among many questions that arise from this picture one of a particular interest here is about an agency in curating our memory practices, constructing personal legacy and a prospect of its broader cultural significance.

In several of his writings Walter Benjamin brought in a figure of a ragpicker which he presented as a particular kind of a modern archivist. In Benjamin’s eyes, ragpickers were nomadic collectors neglecting the historically and imperially significant in order to focus on the mundane refuse produced by the modern city. Combining ragpicking and flâneurie – an aimless urban wandering inspired by Baudelaire’s poetic figure of flâneur– Benjamin developed a particular method for personal archiving that helped him produce rich accounts of the XX century modernity seen from its margins.

I introduce my own archiving practices in relation to Benjamin’s methodology in order to address the current state of the post-digital entropy. In the On-Going Project, as I am calling my set of twelve consistently and carefully performed archiving conducts, I work with a coherent organization of fragments of everyday life as experienced and recorded by an individual at the dawn of the 21st century by the means of technologies at hand. The archive hosts for instance a collection of one minute sound samples recorded daily, ever since July 2010, discarded objects photographed during a walk taken every week since November 2009, GPS records of walks or ten second video clips depicting different evocative configurations of various material objects encountered in public spaces. While discussing the dynamics of my nomadic archiving practices I intend to explore possibilities for alternative forms and aesthetics of experiencing and technologically registering the experience of everyday life beyond the logic of capturing all.

About Jacek Smolicki

Jacek Smolicki is a cross-media practitioner currently working as a researcher at the School of Arts and Communication / Malmö University where he is a member of the Living Archives Research project. He has been actively exhibiting and presenting his works internationally (e.g. Madrid, Moscow, Helsinki, Stockholm, San Francisco). His projects include such forms as interactive installations, sous-veillance art, soundwalks, site-specific memorial art, immersive soundscapes and performances (more on Since 2008 Smolicki has been committed to a set of documentary practices utilizing various recording techniques to construct a multi-faceted record of contemporary everyday life ( One of such practices is a record of one minute of sound of public spaces performed every day, ever since July 2010.