Vicarious Brush with Belief

 the l1l1th archive

Oriel Wyatt was an important figure in my life and, often unknowingly, in the lives of many others. They described themselves as many things: student and critic and enthusiast, collector and archivist and maker. To me, they were a mentor in earnestness; a source of not only countless obscure recommendations but endless openness to the world and the things in it. This site as it stands is a remnant of what was to be a much wider project, which was embarked on with Elle in 2019. Although work towards an exhibition had to be postponed for a variety of reasons at the end of that year, and with everything that’s happened since then it seems that that postponing is resolutely indefinite, I’ve gathered here a collection of some of the more ephemeral objects that we chose together. Paying private attention anew to these things from a shared personal past has been a rewarding if lonely experience in the last few months, and so letting them into a more public and open space seemed a fitting way towards a future less withdrawing.

Read the full introduction

It was around 2011 that I came across across Oriel, under the pseudonym l1l1th (after the Hebraic ‘night creature,’ folkloric first wife of Adam). l1l1th was an active member of an online community that hung out on IRC, a kind of early-web chatroom interface popular in the nineties and early 2000s. I’d discovered this supposedly obsolete technology a couple years earlier, as part of gaining access to the legendary and now defunct private BitTorrent tracker What.CD - the rigorous technical interview (yes, really) to become a member of the site took place over IRC. Communities like What.CD acted as a kind of self-consciously subterranean Library of Alexandria, in which people shared increasingly obscure music rarities; the fact it was entirely free, governed instead by an ethics of sharing both formalised and not, came second to the fact that seemingly every album ever made was available in any digital format you wanted (regardless of if it ever got an official release).

Although sites such as these had forums, the characters that gravitated towards these online spaces tended to hang out on peer-to-peer chatrooms; gradually following various rabbit-holes led me to ‘#perduouvoles’, an IRC channel where I met l1l1th (Oriel, shortened to ‘Elle’ by their irl friends and ‘L’ online. Perdu and the tracker it was informally attached to felt a little like what the internet must have seemed in those early days; using network technology to instigate a kind of non-capitalist gift economy, based on providing access to an ever growing communitarian archive of cultural achievement. That such a place was forced to keep a low profile (and for which reason I’m avoiding naming the private tracker in question), is a contradiction enforced by a world indigent and distorted. These places were keenly attuned to their situation, but nevertheless attempted to proliferate a living and circulating collection away from the trials of notoriety. This was the world of which L was a part.

Anyway, Oriel. Long before they gained their online reputation for it, L was a gatherer of things. This project began as an expression of that generous voracity; a few years ago, they expressed a sudden interest in organising their stuff. In hindsight this makes sense, but I didn’t read into it too much. I was lucky enough to spend countless hours at Elle’s place, talking about the various things they’d accumulated over many years. L was renowned on private trackers for being able to fulfil even the most obscure requests for lost and obscure media (whether the television films of Alexander Kluge or a grainy VHS rip of Cremaster 5), and I’d always wondered how they came across this stuff. It turns out they’d always been adept at sourcing rarities, which when they first started meant writing letters. Elle had corresponded with artists, librarians, monks and activists their whole life, and with the rise of the internet had found an outlet for sharing access more widely to the things that they loved. It was that openness to building connection and community that characterised them in conversation, and fundamentally their overwhelming zealousness for culture was merely an interest in people.

Although the online communities in which L spent much of their time were at least semi-anonymous, operating in determined opposition to hegemonic schematics of social identification and control, they weren’t especially private. When they gave me their journals, for example, they encouraged me to share their contents - and I’m glad to be able to do so, now. They didn’t see them so much as a reflection of themselves, anyway; they conceptualised the self as a kind of conduit for the experiences and encounters that truly make up the actual substance of a life, and accordingly thought of the notebooks as a way to externalise some of those conceptual and material encounters in order to produce new moments of fruitful collision.

L was deeply concerned with what it meant to be an archivist, especially after the rise of the internet. They distanced themselves from the a millenarian conception of time; under such a framework, the archive exists as a safekeeping vault for the old order to be restored after pending catastrophe. Such a vault is protected by guardians, discourses, practices, obedience: the restoration of the older order restarts time, and returns the present to antiquity. Elle believed that the contemporary archive need not repeat such a model, capable instead of benefitting from exchange and circulation. Since digital artefacts do not deteriorate through usage, a modest measure of preservation is obtained through proliferation and dissemination. The real collection of places such as Perdu existed as ever-circulating currents among its inhabitants. I hope that in considering these objects they can continue to live on; not as preservation of the past but as material for a future.