Mapping the Sisyphean Archives: Archival/Anarchival Performativity of Repetition and Failure in Contemporary Archival Art

Ji, Gaeun. 2018. Mapping the Sisyphean Archives: Archival/Anarchival Performativity of Repetition and Failure in Contemporary Archival Art. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Exploring a distinctive archival turn in art, this study investigates where the archival impulse comes
from and why and how artists, as performative researchers, are obsessed with issues relating to the
archive. In order to answer for these questions, this thesis displays a dynamic geography of
archival/anarchival performativity in contemporary archival art since, primarily, the 1960s. The artist
as Sisyphus detects the aporia of the archival impulse being simultaneously archival and anarchival
and activates a Sisyphean loop of repetition and failure in their own artistic archives. Inspired by the
myth of Sisyphus, this project is therefore given the title “mapping the Sisyphean archives”. Using a
methodology of mapping, diverse case studies of archival art are interwoven to unveil the
reconfiguration of the physical and conceptual conditions of the archive.

The meaning of mapping here is varied – doing, undoing, performing, failing, and queering,
polymorphously facilitated by two key wheels of Sisyphean performativity. A critical capacity of
repetition and failure is thus crucially credited as it brings resistant and alternative modes of being,
thinking, and knowing to undermine any idealisation and totalitarianism embedded in normative
archives. Referring to Jacques Derrida’s deconstructive reading of the archive and Gilles Deleuze’s
thoughts on rhizomatic creativity, the first half of the thesis examines multifaceted aspects of
repetition as being pathological, self-evolving, creative, and differentiated each time. In the second
half, with reference to Aaron Williamson’s performance, The Collapsing Lecture, staging the idea of
failure, polyphonic potentiality of failure is addressed as a particular attitude of Sisyphean artists to
experiment with unusual, irregular, fallible, and purposeless yet permissive, rebellious, and
emancipatory rhythms from within the archive.

Such a destructive yet generative force of Sisyphean performativity ultimately contributes to
subverting the negative connotation of repetition and failure against the ideas of banal sameness and
of success. Above all, a performative and processual multiplicity that Sisyphean archival art maps out
demonstrates how any overdetermined social consensus and power inscribed in archives can be
dismantled and how the stagnant site of archives can be transformed into an imaginative, fluctuating
platform for infinite future stories to come.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):

Additional Information:

This is an edited version of the thesis, with third-party copyright material removed.


Mapping, Contemporary archival art, Archives, Sisyphus, Repetition, Failure, Performing the archive, Queering the archive, Archival, Anarchival performativity

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


31 March 2018

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

03 May 2018 11:42

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 14:11


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