Collectively Shaping A New Open Archive


The scope of Oude Kerk Open Archive is not easily defined, as the Open Archive is a work in progress; continuously evolving and growing in various ways. Moreover, Oude Kerk realizes that an archive is necessarily incomplete and prescriptive categories lodge the meaning of the archival records in history. We aim to create an archive that challenges conventional categories and creates more fluid taxonomies. For instance, we decided to focus more on artistic processes and relations instead of objects when it comes to our Open Archive. Creative archival solutions are needed to visualize these relations, but also to embrace the blind spots in our material. Having blinds spots relates to the impossibility of an archive to store everything or draw every relationship; there will always be places where work needs to be done. Last, we would also like our archive to appeal to the imagination of both the archivists, the contributors, and the users.


Oude Kerk invites artists to read the past and add new layers of meaning to it, so this heritage can constantly expand and be reshaped by the present: a way of working that we call ‘interhistorical’. We have been working on adding these artistic interventions to our archive to make these relations visible and the historical collection richer in meaning. Now we would like to go a step further and open this archive to the broad public. We aim to shape our archive to become collaborative, participatory, and creative.

The mission of Oude Kerk Open Archive is to show the artistic processes, the exhibition-making, the artistic interventions, the objects in the church, the graves, the church itself, the neighborhood, and the relations between them. Thus, creating new layers of meaning.

We see the task of an archive as more than just conserving the past. As Hal Foster remarked, archives can be places of “alternative kinds of relations [...] to turn ‘excavation sites’ into ‘construction sites.’” Parallelly running with the Open Archive project, artist Jeanne van Heeswijk is working in the neighborhood of the church to create meaningful ways of becoming collective. The archive aims to complement her findings and provide a platform that is open to new contributions and available for collective participation.


We see the Oude Kerk as the microcosm of Amsterdam representing the historical and contemporary changes in culture and society. This is why our physical collection, as well as the stories and memories surrounding the church, can connect to other museum collections and archives in many ways. We collaborate closely with other institutions to make these connections visible and mutually enrich our collections. These collaborations are essential to us and widen the scope of the Open Archive. Moreover, we would like to share and exchange experiences and use our archival project as an experimental hub of theoretical and practical knowledge.


A lot of the material that is present in the Oude Kerk Open Archive is also hosted online by collaborating organizations. If this is the case, there will be a corresponding link available.

Content concerning histories of exploitation and oppression

For Oude Kerk it is important to recognize the coloniality of the histories present in and around the church because colonialism and the Oude Kerk are strongly connected. The latter connection becomes evident through the individuals who were buried in the church, the narrative put forward by the decorated graves, the untold stories, and the bigger context of Amsterdam in which the Oude Kerk developed. 

Today, Oude Kerk aims to research these histories and decolonize current practices. What role did colonialism have in the development of the church? Artistic programs can play a key role in this matter, as the exhibition of Indonesian artist Iswanto Hartono exemplifies. Hartono connected the histories present in the Oude Kerk with the colonial past in Indonesia from an anthropological and archeological perspective.

The Changing Character of the Archive: Positionality and Subjectivity of the Archivist and of Oude Kerk Open Archive

In the digital age, archives are flexible systems that grant a broader audience access to the material they preserve, as they also have become tools to form and strengthen communities and collective identities. They empower the crowd to organize, share, and search content themselves, while also making the material available for constant recontextualization and


Within this context, Oude Kerk Open Archive recognizes its positionality and subjectivity in archiving the material and immaterial heritage. The choices that were made, and are being made, are part of the vision of the organization and reflect the mission which we believe in (as described above). This also applies to the archivists, curators, and assistants that worked, and continue to work, on the Oude Kerk Open Archive.  


An interhistorical approach - a term coined by cultural theorist Mieke Bal - points out that time is not linear; the present and the past exist simultaneously. Both form a part of the present, which is not flat, but rather gives time multiple layers of meaning and enlivens it; heritage can constantly expand and be reshaped by the present. In establishing these relationships between different moments in the past and the present, we are embedded in the course of 'history'. 

The archive of the Oude Kerk explores these interhistorical relations in the church between various eras—from the fourteenth to the twenty-first century—which today have ended up in the same context, alongside one another. This interplay makes it possible to connect periods naturally and to reflect on the differences and similarities. The use and the function of Oude Kerk evolved throughout these different periods based on diverse cultural and societal needs. Over time, new functions emerged, and others vanished. This may have changed its use, but because of the cultural-historical value of Oude Kerk, it did not change the significance of the church. If you were to take a soil sample of the church, all the layers of time and meaning would be visible. Time does not erase them; it juxtaposes them. Posing questions about this in our present-day society generates a meaningful conversation between present and past. The interhistorical method of reflection can ensure that the historical meaning represents a current value for the world of today and tomorrow. By bringing together contemporary outlooks and heritage, new pages are being added to (art) history in Oude Kerk.

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