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Can a Crowdsourced Narrative of Failure Do Anything But Fail?

Archive of Failure website
Archive of Failure website (screenshot by the author)

In looking to create a visual of the word “failure,” the Archive of Failure seems almost designed to fail. The project, funded by the Arts Council’s Grants for The Arts in the United Kingdom, is crowdsourcing an online and print narrative of anyone’s idea of what the word failure is, with “no curating, no overarching ‘quality control,’ and no selection process.”

As the site explains: “As it evolves the archive will become an unselected and unedited series of visual responses to the idea of FAILURE in its broadest range of senses or deviations.” The project was recently launched online, and although only email submissions are being taken, they’re using such offbeat locations as the bulletin boards at supermarkets and bus shelters to attract submissions. “Send an image which you think constitutes/resonates/implies/describes failure. It can be literal or extremely tenuous. It can be contrived, spontaneous or found, but it should be a response to this project.” (But, despite this wildly broad call, “no text please”!)

So what will this have over, say, a Google Image search for “failure,” which actually turns up a fascinating mash up of mocking memes and encouragement posters? Well, the subjective vision of an art-orienting crowd  in theory could generate a beautiful or harrowing view of failure, and even if is a bit all over the place there’s something appealing in seeing each of our interpretations of what failure might mean on a large or small scale. The website is also sleek and promising, similar to the look of the Gallery of Lost Art.

Andrée expedition balloon crash (via Wikimedia)
Andrée expedition balloon crash (via Wikimedia)

For my part, I can think of no better image of failure than the sprawled hot air balloon of the S. A. Andrée’s Arctic Balloon Expedition of 1897 that attempted to make it to the North Pole by air. They only flew for 10 hours before crashing and subsequently being left to perish on a grueling on-foot journey. It’s one of those grasps by humans at something unreachable and faltering that is a most powerful visual of failure, from Henry Ford’s doomed Amazon utopia Fordlandia to the architecture tragedies currently being chronicled by Failed Architecture.

The results of the experiment will create a chronological archive of when they were received, which will later become a print publication sent to galleries and arts organizations around the United Kingdom, so all can see whether this was an epic failure of an artistic level or just another one of those futile attempts at doing something beyond your reach.

Submit to the Archive of Failure online through June 1.

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