Imaginary Archive: A collection of documents about the past whose future never arrived

There is something appealing and strangely seductive about half-forgotten places like the bookstore located (until recently) inside the George Washington Bridge bus transfer station at 178th Street in Manhattan. For one thing, the store seems hard at work repelling rather than attracting potential customers. Pulsing with a cold, blue-tinged florescent light its sparse goods ––books and a few music CDs–– are placed haphazardly on rusted wire display stands or arranged edge-to-edge, rather than cover-to-cover, in order to fill up the available display shelves that sag at their centers, some also shedding a powdery dust made of an unknown synthetic material supposed to resemble wood. There is simply too much store in relation to its merchandise. Up near the stained drop ceiling hang hand-written signs in over-sized marker: ALL ITEMS HALF PRICE and FINAL SALE. But it is the books themselves that reflect the kind of curious neglect one reserves for ancient archaeological sites. With titles like Aqueous Dynamics for the Hobbyist, Field Guide to the Soviet Union, Cobalt for Beginners, or Lobster Boy: An Amazing True Story, one can not help but wonder just who these authors were, what became of their careers, and did anyone other than family members ever read their books? A similar set of questions applies to the all-but unaccredited men and women who designed the covers of these forgotten volumes. Many shifted towards the blue spectrum from age and ozone contamination, the designs range from standard combinations of Helvetica type and clip art to hand-cut, pre-Macintosh, pre-Photoshop collage illustrations, to weirdly styled typography meant so shout-out to a potential reader “buy me!” Who created this fading gallery of prosaic, yet totally serviceable cover-art? Were some made by recently graduated art students on their first job, or a bored company graphic designer counting the days till retirement, or perhaps in some it was the author his or herself? What if after spending a bit of time in this dreary bibliotheca some other reading of the books, their shabby setting, the entire context of the store began to take shape? What if rather than actually being simply a room full of remaindered texts, what if we were meant to read it as a single sign, as if the entire space was a cipher or allegory for something else, such as an archive of a future that never actually took shape?

The participants of the Imaginary Archive collectively produce the content of this forlorn repository in the form of “what if” novels, brochures, catalogs, pamphlets, newsletters, posters, objects, as well as a number of actual archival documents typically overlooked by the mainstream [art] historical record. This ersatz archive was first arranged inside of the Enjoy Art Gallery in Wellington New Zealand along with several local bookstores in June of 2010. Inspiration came from The Yes Men’s wishful version of the New York Times and New York Post newspapers filled with reports that we wish were true, as well as the novels of Philip K. Dick such as Man in the High Tower or Time Out of Joint, and certain films by Christ Marker including La Jetée, and Sans Soleil. Had you entered the now defunct G.W. Book and Electronics Store ––or its Wellington equivalent– in some parallel universe, what would its content ideally reveal about the way the world might have been: politically, socially, economically, culturally, personally? As Derrida insists, “The archive: if we want to know what this will have meant, we will only know tomorrow. Perhaps.”

Gregory Sholette, June, 2011.