Chapter 10


Archival history: synchronic and diachronic accounts 

Introduction: Archival Methodology

This chapter uses a classic process of historicisation based mainly on archival documents. There are many problems with this process that revolve around selection and interpretation. What gets archived and what gets erased or thrown away? What gets recorded on documents in the first place? Does the material that survives adequately represent what actually happened? What material does the contemporary researcher select as significant? How does she decide this significance? How does her subject position influence this interpretation?

Exploding Cinema had three areas of archived records: minute books; programmes from each show[1]; electronic documents and associated paper files. I typed a summary of key texts from the minute books, which was made available to collective members. The texts in paper and electronic format were copied and bound as an archived record. The programmes were laboriously scanned page by page [almost 700 scans] and copied as Tiff and JPEG files to CD ROMS. From the programmes a catalogue of all the filmmakers that had been listed in the programmes (with their name, work title, duration, format and date of show) was typed out and bound as a separate volume. From all this material I made a first rough draft narrative and circulated copies amongst the collective.[2]

The question of the reflexivity of the researcher has already been discussed in the introduction and chapter one. Some answers to the questions of what is represented and what is missed by the archived materials are provided by the use of participant observation and oral interviews.[3] Selections from these research methodologies are also included in the account that follows.

As I pointed out in the introduction there is a critical time in the following narrative when I join the collective. From this point in early 1997 the narrative becomes based on my own witness, and the archive materials are infected to some extent, by my presence. This results in a change of narrative style.[4]

Any historical study can take a synchronic or diachronic approach. The diachronic is a chronological approach - one thing is followed by another, events have consequences, which we can follow with a narrative flow. This generally means picking a narrow path through time, which moulds the resulting representations in various ways. Written narrative has its own tradition that has been traced back to the Jewish Old Testament and the Greek Iliad.[5] There are certain literary techniques that we might expect in any narrative form, especially those that play with our expectations, which generate tensions and enrich them with digressions. Dramatic high profile events and personalities that change things are more likely to be recorded than more mundane social processes. This sort of history tends to favour an idea of progress rendered through the eyes of leaders. It gives a representation of history in which change appears to be brought about by great individuals rather than through social agency. A social history is inevitably complex and does not easily submit to the simplifications demanded by a good story. The Exploding Cinema collective is a microcosm of a wider society and even with its limited numbers starts to provide the complex interactions that make a simple narrative problematic. Even without the demands of a narrative certain viewpoints, interests, memories and subjectivites become highlighted at the expense of others.

Synchronic history was conceived as providing a detailed cross section of the simultaneous happenings of a particular time. It gives what Clifford Geertz called a thick description.[6] All kinds of unconnected events can make up human experience of a time and place. Even when we want to look at the emergence of something as profound and specific as printing with moveable type we may find that many factors all contribute to the point of invention which do not readily lend themselves to ordering in a narrative sequence.[7] A synchronic approach allows us to create a picture of life at a time or place in much finer detail, showing the complexities and essential redundancies. It allows us to include that which is unchanging or mundane but which is essential to character and atmosphere, and so to a fuller understanding. Because it allows more to be included it can be a more democratic approach which can include the texture of lives and processes which are unremarkable by the traditional historical criteria. The unremarkable is also often the typical, that which is held in common.

I have written up the archival/factual history of Exploding Cinema in two alternating strands. One focuses on the events and venues and is in the most part chronological: See sections 1 to 9 below. The other strand mainly concerns themes, like politics and policies, and events like the Volcano Festivals that occur over a period of time. These sections build up a synchronic picture of the group during this period: See A to H below.[8] By interweaving the two forms of representation I hope to build a detailed account of Exploding Cinema.


10.00 Introduction: history and methodology

10.01 Cooltan and the Cinema Cafe (1991)   

            10.0A Division of Labour (1991 - 1999)       

10.02 Las Casas (1992)                                       

            10.0B Programme texts (1991 - 1999) 

10.03 Jugglers Arms (1993)       

            10.0C Politics and Policies (1991 - 1999) 

10.04 The Lido Show (August 1993)

            10.D Collective split (1994 - 1996)

10.05. Union Tavern (1993 - 1994)     

            10.0E Continental Touring (1993 - 1998)

10.06 Venue Miscellany  (1994 - 1996)

            10.0F Filmmakers & performers (1992 - 1997)

10.07 Ritzy Shows - (1995 & 1996)     

            10.0G Volcano! (1996 - 1998)

10.08 Three venues - (1997 - 1998)               

            10.0H The audience (1991 - 1999)

10.09 The Roof Shows (1997 & 1998) -           




[1] There are also posters and flyers but these have not been collected in the same way that the programmes have been.


[2] These materials will be available as part of an archive that will accompany the presentation of this thesis.


[3] As I have noted this is known as triangulating methodologies


[4] This occurs by sections G and 8. The change that the presence of a researcher may have had is discussed elsewhere, particularly in Chapters 6 and 8.


[5] See, Eric Auerbach, Mimesis: represented reality, Transl. Willard R. Trask, (Princeton University Press 1953)


[6] Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (Basic Books N.Y. 1973)


[7]  See my 'Booking InÉ' The Artist's Book Yearbook 1994 - 95 (Magpie Press 1995) In this article I identify thirteen variables which together led to the invention of printing with moveable type around 1450.


[8] This does not mean that there cannot be chronological elements within the synchronic items; for instance although the programmes have followed a very stable format there are things that have occurred in particular periods.