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Rewriting the Archive – Transdisciplinary Activations in Latin American Literature (2023-)

Ana Rocío Jouli, Research Area 2: "Travelling Matters"
Professional-Track Postdoctoral Research Project

The archive as a site for aesthetic exploration and historical dispute surged into the field of contemporary art in the mid-1990s and held sway over critical discussion on memory politics and the power dynamics at play in the custodianship of the past. Literature was not immune to the fever, and an increasing number of writers began incorporating archival practices and materials to their work. This coming together of archive and writing produces literary experiments that integrate the multiple medialities and materialities of the archive into the writing process. In Latin American literary theory, the emergence of expanded writing practices in connection to the artistic use of archives has sparked speculation over the dissolution of literature as an autonomous field (Ludmer 2010, Garramuño 2015, Ladagga 2007).

In recent history, the question of the archive in Latin America is inseparable from the violence of dictatorships and the collective efforts to reconstruct memory after the return of democracy. The documentary poetry of Chilean writer Carlos Soto Román serves as a prominent example of how archival art practices can create political interventions through expanded writing procedures. In works such as Chile Project: [Re-classified] (2013) and Borradura (2021), Soto Román constructs his pieces through operations of (dis)assembly and alteration of declassified CIA documents regarding US involvement in the 1973 coup in Chile. The writing process paradoxically unfolds through erasure, using long black lines and white smudges that mute the text. Between book-object, installation and poetry film, Soto Román deploys modes of literary creation at the boundaries of literature, tracing paths that disclose the silences within the archive.

Rewriting the Archive seeks to examine different conceptualisations and activations of archives in contemporary Latin American literature, developing formats for transdisciplinary exchange between practitioners and researchers. In 2024, the core transfer component of this project entails the curation of the series “Archive in the Works” for the inaugural edition of the Barrio | Bairro Berlin festival. A key feature of this series will be the Archive Activation Lab, where writers, curators and critics are invited to work on expanded literary explorations of the Special Collections housed at the library of the Ibero-American Institute in Berlin.