In this article, I argue that contemporary art has played an essential role both in the transformation of contemporary archives and within the framework of the archival turn (eg the anthropologist Ann Laura Stoler discusses the archival turn in the context of colonial studies, and authors such as Terry Cook and Eric Ketelaar use the term in the field of archival science). More specifically, I will explore this influence from the viewpoint of different artistic movements before concluding with visual art and a case study of the installation Arxiu d’arxius (Archive of archives, 1998-2006), a personal archive by the Catalan artist Montserrat Soto. The aim is to analyse how art has both changed how documents are created and displayed and provided new ways of organizing information and transmitting cultural memory, especially with regard to documenting aspects of history associated with pain, oppression and war (generally drawing on oral memory) and with certain groups (women, slaves and minority indigenous communities) that have been excluded from the documentary repositories of traditional archives, whether due to institutional neglect or because they were inevitably silenced and censored.
To this end, I will first offer a brief overview of the origin and evolution of the concept of archive up to the present day, highlighting the main transformations it has undergone. I will then argue that contemporary art has engaged intensively with the idea of document storage and memory. Finally, building on these premises, I will analyse the three archives included in Arxiu d’arxius that are based on oral memory: the archive of mass graves from the Spanish Civil War, the archive of American slavery and the archive of the Aboriginal Australian community.