Housed Memory

Uriel Orlow

Housed Memory is an exhaustive video archive of the collections held by the Wiener Library, London, the oldest Holocaust archive in the world. Housed Memory is an endless but discontinuous, handheld tracking shot, in which the camera takes on the role of an historical witness and records—shelf by shelf—the contents of the archive. Nine hours in duration, Housed Memory both reveals the sheer materiality of a collection which is otherwise hidden from view and at the same time produces the sense of the unknowable in the face of a totality which cannot be grasped. The accompanying soundtrack consists of staff and volunteers talking about their work with, and their relationship to, the documents.

“A liminal work, Housed Memory plays on the two extremes or limits of memory as defined by Derrida: the interiority associated with the voice, and the exteriority of the physical support. The tracking shot of the shelves (‘shelf’ was one of the possible meanings associated with the Greek and Latin terms for ‘library’) supporting the volumes and boxes is seen from outside and contrasted with the voices of those who work in the archive, which often speak of memory. The two limits of memory are juxtaposed: memory as testimony, given in speech; and memory as the physical ‘stuff’ retained by the library. What we are not allowed to see, except in the form of labels, is the writing that mediates between the two. Thus the ‘inwardness’ of spoken memories and experiences is brought into proximity with the physical support—quite literally in the case of the shelving—of the archive. Since this is a recording, we are reminded that ‘inward’ memory also depends on a support. What is at stake here is the relation not just of memory, but of testimony, to the archive. Orlow juxtaposes the tracking shot of closed books and archive boxes—we can only read the titles and numbers, there is a sense of exclusion here—with the voices of those who work in the Library, some of whom are survivors themselves, others witnesses to the witnesses.”

Michael Newman: Archive, Testimony and Trace: "Uriel Orlow’s Housed Memory", in Deposits (Berlin/Zürich: The Greenbox, 2006)