Launched in March 2011, Babel Fiche is a web-based film production commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella, with support from MIRIAD, North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University, and Castlefield Gallery, Manchester.
Babel Fiche adopts a new position in contemporary artist’s film and photography by using microfilm to critically question our accelerating archival urge to produce, collect and remix visual media. It questions the potential function and value of analogue images in a post-digital information Dark Age. By portraying an imaginary media for future researchers, Babel Fiche highlights the inevitability of environmental or political impact on survival of our archive. Two theoretical contexts frame the inquiry: media archaeology, typified by Zielinski and Kittler, traces cultural technologies to reveal our universal desire to generate, organise and communicate knowledge through deep time. Flusser's philosophy of photography foregrounds 'technical images' as increasingly structuring scopic regimes eclipsing writing as our primary social means of remembering and speaking.
I initially reviewed the history of microfilm as archaic technology of hyper-compressed storage and communication. Applying Web 2.0 logic to the material and cultural contexts of microfilm, further multifaceted methods were rooted in notions of participation and translation, aiming to decentre my personal authorship in favour of a collective voice. Video fragments were internationally crowd-sourced using social media, and their individual frames compressed onto microfiche – a photographic medium capable of lasting 500 years. I invited a poet and a philosopher of religion to write voiceovers in response to this image catalogue from a fictional future viewpoint. In reply to their dialogue, I invented a new stop-motion technique to re-animate the fiches, suggesting an immediate, cognitive and fluid navigation as post-human observers carry out a historical 'reading' of our contemporary behaviours. Actors and film crew then located the characters in a near-future setting, and a film editor and composer further remixed the production materials. The installation includes a film projection and three microfiche readers, through which gallery visitors investigate the Babel Fiche image catalogue in gestures mimicking those of the on-screen fictional researchers.
Babel Fiche generated a unique web and microfiche print archive, an installation exhibited at leading UK galleries and overseas, an Art Monthly review, two international conference presentations, panel discussions, and invited essays by experts in Flusser and archival translation in artist's film practice. Together the outputs question the future survival and value of photographic images, and critically re-imagine redundant microfilm as a sustainable media for translating knowledge into a future age.
Other contributors include pioneering musician/composer Graham Massey, poet Gaia Holmes and philosopher Dr Stefan Skrimshire (Leeds University). As essay 'Unwritten History' by Dr Nancy Roth (Falmouth University) analyses Babel Fiche's themes of photography and history from a Flusserian perspective.