The Making of a National Audio-Visual Archive: The CNA and the Hidden Images Exhibition
This thesis explores the agency and practices of visual material in the construction of collective memory and national identity. It is grounded in the case study of one particular institution, the Centre national de l’audiovisuel (CNA) in Luxembourg, and in the institutional life and transformations of a specific body of images, Luxembourg’s Amateur Film Collection and the exhibition Hidden Images mounted in 2007. The CNA is Luxembourg’s central repository for film, photography and sound documents brought together under the rubric of ‘national heritage’. The amateur film archive comprises today about 10.000 objects from the 1920s to the mid 1970s. Made in Luxembourg or by people from Luxembourg, the movies, and even more so the film stills as a condensed version of the archive, represent the nation, yet as an ensemble they remain contained, making a close examination possible. I consider in this context that images are not however only indexical referents, but also, and especially, bundled objects existing materially in the world, entangled in a complex tissue of social interactions and practices, tensioned between document and art work and interwoven with shifting institutional aspirations. Drawing on the work of Ingold, I characterize this as a meshwork, in which everything is connected and visual objects evolve organically, subject to internal and external influences. Thus, this thesis observes the private family films as they meet and mesh with the public institution CNA where they develop new agency as historical documents, as works of art or triggers of collective memory. It explores the filmed material in relation to the national and institutional politics of the CNA’s emergence, the shifting culture of curatorial intention and ambition for the collection, the hierarchies of information within CNA. By making visible the lines, the connections and the nodes of this meshwork, as well as its patterns of disruption and fracture, this study highlights the varying interactions with Luxembourg’s Amateur Film Collection in particular, and, more generally, the performative nature of family photographs and films as they are used to construct images of nationality. The small scale of Luxembourg as a nation-state presents a demonstrable case study of the ecology of images in national identity building and makes an unusually grounded contribution to the wider debate about the ways in which images strengthen a sense of belonging, and how archives and museums use photography and film to construct and articulate visions of nationhood.
- PhD