Archiving the Contemporary

The relationship between the city and its cinema is imaginary yet tactile, complementary and also ambivalent, momentary but still recyclable – in short, it speaks of a form as well as its apparition. Though their relative size and perspective remain fluid and interchangeable - often making the apparition seem much larger than the form itself. This phenomenon not only upset the sense of what is tactile and what is abstract, what is experienced and what is a borrowed perception, but also the idea of temporality – the difference between now and then, and between here and there. The sense of present and real often gets refracted through confusing notions of nostalgia and fantasy.

Thus, the lived experiences in cinema city, including the memory and the desire, are as much about substance as they are about abstraction. This happens because aspiration plays a huge role in this. When things are perceived and memorised through the parameter of aspiration the materiality of things too become transient – spaces turn into cinematic locations, dialogues replace the idioms and adages, reflexes get developed by fictions instead of by lived-in experiences and discarded film prints become base material for collar stiffeners.

Phantasmagoria – the base of popular cinema – homogenised the perceptions. Through the lens of cinema, everything – the tulip covered Alps and the fishing net in Versova village or the aliens in Mars and the mafia in Lokhandwala or the Dharavi labyrinths and the US army convoy in the desert of Iraq - appears equally distant and familiar, almost tactile but fully imaginary.

The process of archiving such a phenomenon, that is Cinema City, had to be porous in order to accommodate the tangential, the absences, the erased, the redundant, the fantasized, the fleeting, and, most importantly, the improvisations that the cinema citizens routinely invent and employ. The interfaces between the cinema producing city and the cities imagined by the cinema continue to leave watermarks in the real city – in its pattern of landuse, in its map of demography, in its brush with technology, in its ancillary entertainment portals, in its fashion economies and so on. But they are strictly watermarks – fragile, mercurial, enigmatic, masquerading and unruly. They challenge the material aspect of archiving process at every stage.

Hence, in this project, archiving needed to be more than collecting, collating and annotating. It needed to problematize the concept of materiality by inducing certain speculative and tentative elements into the archiving process as well as in the annotations of the archived material. So, this is a kind of archive that was not conceived as a reservoir of dead or post-utility objects that would gather dust and value over times. Rather it was a passage of ongoing transformations of forms and perceptions – a site of action and not of facility.

Here, the archive is a living organism.