ESSAY: Dead Records in Suspension: A reading of Holly Melgard’s Reimbursement and Carlos Soto-Roman’s Chile Project (Re-Classified)

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by Andy Martrich

Evidence, physical or otherwise, is seldom considered via its role in a collection as a materially reflexive component of the collection (i.e. content-as-content), and in lieu of the affective quality it exhibits. The appearance of a configurative substance within the given context of a life-cycle or an archive might commonly trigger a classification process that takes place within that constraint; however, it is seldom considered in terms of requisite permutations as a variable of retention. The process of classification does not inherently question whether or not the identifiers assigned to and inferred from content are prone to expiration. Poetic content, particularly in the sense that it appears as evidence, is typically viewed in the context of its designated container— a poem, poetry, indications of poetic diction or aesthetic form, a shape, etc. But how is a reader to view content that was formerly assigned a role (socially, culturally, politically) only to be set in motion within the parameters of a collection— modified, nullified, or destroyed? Holly Melgard’s Reimbursement (TROLL THREAD 2013) and Carlos Soto-Roman’s Chile Project (Re-Classified) (Gauss PDF 2013) are two such instances of content appearing as modified evidence on display— collections striving to convey a nuanced intention proxy to the manufacturer, producer, or socially dominant authority source through the suspension of records in apparent disposition.

Holly Melgard’s Reimbursement is a 228-page book/PDF predominantly composed of images of losing lottery tickets. The piece is duplicitous in its intention, serving as documentation of financial loss, and as a kind of fundraising effort on behalf of the collector, where the cost of one book will ultimately reimburse the amount of her gambling losses over a 6-year period. In the introduction Melgard writes,

The price to purchase this book is equivalent to the money I spent on losing lottery and scratch tickets over the last 6 years ($222), plus whatever Lulu charges for its print on demand services. Reimbursement is for the work. Whether you have to work to pay for it or not, regardless of my job, now it’s your turn.

Reimbursement, Page 1

Here the reader is treated to the ephemerality of the record in that it only serves as evidence of the intention of the collector and not independently (i.e. records in isolation do not exist). In effect, there is also the implication of the transformation of meaning through stages of hope (i.e. bureaucracy), systematic rejection, financial loss as a result of that rejection, evidence (within the role of the archive) of the collector’s activities and habits over a given time period (6-years) and location (New York), and inevitably, of the death of the record (regardless of its suspension as content) in that it has served as a representation of an event/evidence and is no longer useful in the context of its intended purpose of production (i.e. a lottery ticket mandated by New York state). Here the reader encounters a content that stagnates at the end of its retention period. Essentially, it either alters intention (moved or modified by way of an external authority) or enters the death phase (i.e. disposition). However, during the reading process the reader innately assumes that the records remain active, in forgetting that she or he is not participating in the process of accessing and viewing losing lottery tickets, but rather scans of losing lottery tickets.

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The reader cannot know if the collector has participated in disposition, or even shredded evidence subsequent to its digitization. It is in this space of the modification, movement, and destruction of records (records in a constant ephemeral phase) where we encounter content in flux— not of sound, image, capacity, or even aesthetics— but rather of the seamless transformation of what all things do best: disappear (i.e. die and decay). What remains is evidence; what goes is poetic inference.

Given the absence of the physical evidence, there occurs a necessary suspicion of the authenticity of any documentation that the image might imply. If presented with the corporeal evidence, then perhaps what is read is the non-fiction of evidence, which portends the necessity of advocacy for the reimbursement of the collector’s finances. However, there is only the image (that becomes the object, privileged substitute of the physical, regardless of its intrinsic drive toward obsolescence) and the word of the collector (an admitted gambler and therefore less prone to be trusted in a fiduciary context), who decides what stays and what goes.

In place of images of losing lottery tickets, suppose the reader encounters a flyer intended to serve as an advertisement for karate lessons, but the date for the lessons has already past. The reader is immediately faced with a question: what happens to the karate lessons when they are no longer offered? In this question lies the predicament of records, particularly as ephemera, which more frequently than not inherently intend expiration/systematic rejection/social uselessness— essentially treading a very fine line between modification/movement and disposition/destruction. In this example, the karate lessons were offered at a particular place and time (i.e. culturally historicized), but if there is no physical evidence, there is no real way of knowing if we are being manipulated into believing that what we are encountering is in fact a double. This act cannot be derivative of the intention of the object, which will always intend if it is allowed to; however, it is by a matter of an overriding intention of an external dominance (i.e. a policy, curator, archivist, collector), which ultimately grants meaning to the archive. In this sense, a record is always dead until moved/modified, even if that modification entails its destruction. Archives are immaterial until an authority says otherwise, and therefore are pockets of solipsistic activity (activated into existence by an authorization). The reader has no choice but to believe the collector in the context of her collection, regardless if the records are dead or nonexistent.

In a similar manner, the collector may portend nonexistence in preference to existence. In Carlos Soto-Roman’s Chile Project (Re-Classified), there are two ostensible authorities contending to authorize record states: the collector and the CIA. These Cold War era documents regarding the intervention of the USA in the 1973 Chilean coup d’état were de-classified in 2000, while the collector re-classifies them (13 years later) by occluding the previously uncensored content of the documents. In effect, while the National Security Archive mandates a renewal of access to information, the collector rejects this renewal, perhaps even illegally according to the Terms and Conditions of the National Security Archive website.

You may not edit or otherwise change the substance of the content in any reproduction, publication, distribution, or transfer of an article or section of the Web site that is credited to the National Security Archive, except that you may excerpt portions of the content with credit to the author, where applicable, and the National Security Archive.

Regardless, the result is a 45-page PDF of choppy scans replete with black marks and scribbling.

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Classified information exposes another layer of the collection. Not only are classified records considered to be vital, they also require staunch security measures to prevent access by uncleared persons. However, the collector modifies the role of the record by re-censoring de-classified content, exposing the record in its former state while simultaneously negating the intention. The reader is left to view dummy representations of the latent phase, a record in a perpetual state of modification (always on the cusp of movement) within the collection. Because a re-classified record insinuates a de-classified record, the reader infers that the de-classified content is accessible in another location (perhaps the National Security Archive website) even though the collector refrains from providing this information. Evidently, the collector prefers the death phase over the record’s assumed accessible state in an archival phase somewhere else. Again, what remains in the life-cycle is evidence; the record on the cusp of disposition or dead from the cycle becomes the poetic inference of the material— no longer accessible for the sheer fact that no one accesses it (i.e. records cannot exist in isolation) in lieu of an accessible counterpart or state. In this context, the re-classified records only intend the portrayal of a particular classified state (Secret and Confidential) that the reader may safely assume has in effect already succumbed to disposition.

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In many instances throughout the piece, classification levels are hardly censored (crossed out but still legible). The reader is left to consider whether or not this is a double of the original censorship. If not, what exactly is the collector’s bias? Aside from classification levels, there are words that recur uncensored throughout the text, namely: Chile, Pinochet, Condor, Disappeared, Murder, and Death. Some documents contain more selective edits than others. The juxtaposition between pages 30 and 31 is particularly revealing:

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Page 31 follows suit, a document heavily censored in sloppy black marker, while on the preceding page the collector exercises very selective censorship resulting in the concrete presentation of a cryptic message, “MURDER IS CONDOR DISAPPEARED CHILE NNN.” In this context, the piece appears to be an erasure; however, in a cohesive sense, it differs in its role of re-instating a security measure in the absence of a security-related reason (or at least without providing the reader with one), re-adding in lieu of eliminating. It is therefore indicative of the very opposite of erasure, in essence, a busted evidence— an evidence that breaks under the strain of its activation (res extensa via res cogitans) and responsibility as accessible material in the collection. It is not the erasure of content, but rather the destruction of form (in the sense of material rather than technique). The suspension of such evokes the corpse of its modification.

It is in the death phase that evidence becomes defective, transitory, and in turn, poetic. In this case, it is primarily noticeable when considering the reader’s inherent suspicion of authenticity in the wake of the collector’s overt request for money (Melgard), and the collector’s selective presentation of a former state, i.e. a dead self (Soto-Roman). In both cases, the suspension of the dead record articulates the infirmity of its role as content to a collection, where it is the authority itself in which the intention is commanded regardless of the production and essential corruption of the trustworthiness of a record as a record.

Andy Martrich is the author of Iona (BlazeVox), NJN Transition (Gauss PDF), and Monsanto Ballooning #1, forthcoming from Make Now. He lives in Dakar, Senegal.

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