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Transmission in Motion

Seminar Blogs

“The open dramaturgy of a digital archive project” – Gido Broers  

Eef Masson addressed in her lecture “Experience and Experimentation in the Sensory Moving Image Archive Project” several issues with regards to digital archives, and more specifically in the context of the Sensory Moving Image Archive Project. The aim of this project is “to establish how these groups [artists, the creative industries and researchers] can explore, navigate and repurpose a specific subset of heritage objects – moving images – by using tools for the analysis (software) and visualization (interfaces) of visual features and relations”. What I took as the main point of her lecture, is their aim to create an interface that can not only be useful for searching, which means that you are looking for specific content, but could also serve as a tool for browsing, which is an activity that is less guided than searching and can be done in order to get new insights, ideas or a new, critical perspective on the object of study. This latter activity requires an interface in which the user is encouraged to explore and look for something he did not know he was looking for. It is, at least in my opinion, this explorative approach that makes the archive into an enactive, performative interface which only exists in its use: it is up to the user to make the archive a meaningful collection of, in this case, moving images.

During Masson’s talk, I was trying to understand this project and how they tried to structure the archive. Since I have a background in mainly theatre and performance studies I had to think of the term dramaturgy to describe the aim of the archive as described by Masson. Originally, the term ‘dramaturgy’ means the structuring of actions. If you would dive a bit deeper into the specificity of a digital archive, the term dramaturgy could raise several interesting and relevant questions. First of all, what about the structuring of the actions in the archive? What are the actions that the archive ‘affords’ the user? (interestingly, the archive does not ‘act’ itself, it only creates a possibility for the user to act) What is the aim of structuring these actions in such a way? How can the structure steer the user to browse instead of merely search through the archive? Next, questions can be asked regarding the notion of representation of the archive. How is the physical world represented in the archive? What are the choices that are being made with regards to this representation and what are the assumptions and implications of this representation? Finally, does the structuring of the actions and the mode of representation match the aim of the archive?

With this reflection, I wanted to show how a concept like dramaturgy could be useful to understand and maybe reflect on the ‘performance’ of the archive. Since the aim of the SEMIA project is to allow the user to browse I would claim that the dramaturgy of this archive is an ‘open’ dramaturgy – which is a term I encountered recently – in which the archive is open for the interpretation/use of the user and thereby puts a certain emphasis on the importance of the activity of its user.


  • NWO. “The Sensory Moving Image Archive (SEMIA): Boosting Creative Reuse for Artistic Practice and Research”. Last accessed on 19th May 2019.  https://www.nwo.nl/onderzoek-en-resultaten/onderzoeksprojecten/i/89/28489.html