documenting, archiving and processing narratives
of the
Danube-Black Sea Canal

reflections from alternator

The relation between the archive and the narratives that start from and refer to the archive is never unilateral.

The archive is more than the crude fact that informs on the narrative; the narrative is something else than the simple interpretation of archive data. It is fair to say that archives and narratives are different enunciating mediums that run parallel to each other and meet in the historic and personal discourse.

Archives spring from the centers of power, they indeed furnish material for the state (or official) knowledge but, in the same time, archives reach deep in the micro-level of our society. Narratives are often individual productions, but their relevance consists in their capacity to engulf large social groups and become hegemonic.

Narratives operate a selection in the bulk of data archive. The selection’s criteria obey the intrinsic rules of narration, which always lead to a recreation of the archive.

Beside the selection of documents, the work of the narrative with the archive involves a plastic element, the tacit interpolation of an artistic modulation in the historic-scientific explanation, which „revives” the archive. The other way around, the archive material poses a constant threat to the narratives, the threat of subverting the narrative’s direction.

This is also true for the archive of the Danube-Black Canal.

The current public narrative about this archive is based on

  1. a selection that privileges the first construction period (1949-1953). This period is narratively built as a metonymic space, the space of totalitarian repression.
    In other words, the public narrative tries to recreate through a partial and symbolic site – a specific history of the Canal in the 1950’s – the entire history of the Canal project.

  2. The public narrative that draws on the Canal archive employs artistic devices, or plastic and rhetorical elements. One can mention prison cells’ recreations in public and private museums, the introduction of religious orthodox objects as documentary “testimonies” in public exhibitions, literary constructions of figures and dramatic scenes in literary works and movies.
    The use of arts as a plastic supplement to the archive serves to convince the audience with regard to the truthfulness of the historic discourse on the one hand, and on the other, to give – more precisely to forge – “unmediated” access to the Canal experience.

Such an approach to archive presents a series of methodological shortcomings which indirectly points at.

The site gathers unvisited material (until now) from the second construction stage of the Canal (1975-1989) selected by the Alternator Group from the Archive of the Navigable Canals Administration and combines it with our field research.

The site also presents narrative forms that are obscured in the public narrative about the canal and puts them in relation with the hegemonic narratives.

Project financed by the Romanian Ministry of Culture.
Proiect finanțat de Ministerul Culturii.