THE MUTABLE ARCHIVE

The Mutable Archive is a complex, multi-layered project that begins with a series of nineteen photographs, produced during a residency at the College of Physicians and Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. The photographs are themselves an archive, produced from an archive of 139 human specimens, collected by 19th century Viennese comparative anatomist Dr. Josef Hyrtl for the study of physiognomy. Each photograph portrays a single specimen and accompanying archive card, which details only partial information about the subject.

Nineteen commissioned writers – artists, scholars, historians, a medical ethicist, a philosopher, an opera singer, and a spiritual medium – each create a speculative biography for a subject of their choosing from the collection. The scripts are then read, recorded, and edited into a series of richly textured video performances that are projected sequentially.

Archival data, combined with personal imaginings allow each collaborator to explore a variety of creative and interpretive strategies to rethink the gaps and distortions found within the archive. The Mutable Archive also prompts an examination of the role of the spectacle, the photograph as a document – both what it pictures and what it means – and the methods employed to record human and medical histories. Rather than obey the laws of scientific methodology or archival theory, the project prioritizes the relationship between each author/performer and their chosen subject while examining the role of narrative storytelling in science, how narrative strategies can revive unrecoverable histories, and how art can reveal a variety of social and political realities through fiction.