NYC Study Trip
With the 4th International Text Festival well under-way it has inspired us to start updating you all once again about Bury’s Text Art Archive. Since the departure of Art Archive Curator Holly Pester, the archive has been ticking along receiving new donations and other members of the gallery team have been beavering away behind the scenes working on the collection.
Our Museum Curator has recently been working with artists Jez Dolan and Joe Richardson on the Text Festival exhibition Polari Mission http://polarimission.com/ which is on display in the Museum space until the 19th of July. Polari Mission is an attempt by Jez & Jo to save Polari, one of the world’s most endangered languages, a bold yet secretive part of Gay history. At the end of the exhibition the artists are going to donate their Polari Mission research archive to Bury’s Text Art Archive and in preparation for this our Museum Curator recently went on a curatorial study trip to New York funded by the Art Fund’s, Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Grants program. The trip was a great success and she met some enthusiastic people who very kindly gave her their time to discuss the work they do with their queer legacy materials. The things she discovered will ultimately feed into the way we document, catalogue and give access to the Polari Mission research archive.
NYC Study trip, Susan Lord:
Fales Library & Special Collections visit – Thursday
Based in the heart of Manhattan the Fales Library & Special Collections brings together material from the Gay community, punk rock, and Downtown art world to create new ways of collecting, documenting and interpreting Queer histories.
Occupying the 3rd floor of a large 6 story building the Fales operates an appointment only system. The Head Archivist Lisa Darms agreed to meet and with me to discuss some of my questions, and we set off on a tour of the archives store room. She told me that, “at the Fales we have a very broad concept of what a ‘document’ is, so we have a lot of unusual things like a sailor girls outfit worn by a punk rock singer, a graffiti covered filing cabinet and a skateboard with ‘Fight Homophobia’ stickers on it from Outpunk, the first record label entirely devoted to queer punk bands”.
I asked Lisa how the Fales decided what was gay material and what was not – what items were a good fit for their collections. “Lisa’s take on it was that they don’t have a specific collection group that they define as ‘just gay’, to her it is all Queer material. The majority of their gay material is catalogued under the Riot Grrrl Collection. The collection attempts to document the evolution of the Riot Grrrl movement, particularly in the years between 1989 and 1996. Because Riot Grrrl was (and is) both a political and a cultural movement, its output was diverse, including writing, music, performance, film, activism, photography, video, and original art. The collection is a primary resource for researchers who are interested in feminism, punk activism, queer theory, gender theory, DIY culture, and music history.
She went onto say, ‘we are looking for unique items that document a persons work,so rather than collect a mass market magazine we would prefer to collect the collage made from that magazine, that eventually became an album cover design. Or we collect copies of things such as zines that belonged to people, but we also like the master copy and the artwork that went into it as well as the correspondence that documented it all happening’. The Fales arrange their archive material based on how the donor arranged it her or himself and then they create a finding aid which is a long contextualised inventory that people can view online. Their mantra is “original order” they believe that the way people arrange their documents whether in physical folders, boxes or on the computer desktop it helps scholar understand those documents contextually. A newspaper clipping may have very little meaning on its own but that clipping sent to someone in an addressed envelope that also included a long letter commenting on it, is an entirely different thing and must be preserved together.
I was interested in finding out whether they placed any access restrictions on their LGBT related material due to data protection issues, in the UK archives would close certain collections because of statutes and legislation. At the Fales Lisa told me ‘we have a blanket access policy, basically if you donate a collection then it means that you are agreeing to it being used and viewed by the public. In some exceptional circumstances we may set a 10 year lock-down period on certain records in the collection, but only at the request of the donor, but this is exceptional; most people are happy for their collections to be used’. There was one exception to this when the the team of Archivists decided to close a collection that was given to them which they felt was on a mission to “out people”, so they decided this could cause offence to the people involved and locked it down.
We then moved onto discussing the language the Fales used to catalogue and describe their queer archives. In the USA, I was told, archives follow the guidelines set out by the Library of Congress which prescribes the terminology used by archives. There is only one heading given to describe queer culture which is ‘Gays’, which Lisa felt was an offensive and restricting term. The way that the Fales gets round this is the unlimited use of free text fields on their online catalogue. The internet has liberated the way an archive collection can describe its contents and allows online researchers to search using key words such as, gay, lesbian, transsexual, queer, bisexual etc.
After the tour of the stores I spent some time in the archives search-room. I had made a search of their online database prior to my visit and was interested to see some of the items in the Martin Wong collection, I deliberately chose records which included artworks just to see how they stored them and what they defined as ‘artwork’. Interestingly the items brought to me where artist sketchbooks and individual unframed artist sketches, in Bury, items such as this physically stay within the remit of the art collection but intellectually they will be searchable under the Art Archive.
Towards the end of my visit I gave Lisa a couple of gifts for the Fales archives, fromJez Dolan and Joe Richardson the Polari Mission artists a limited edition print of the Polari Mission etymology and a Quiche Plate, they were very well received.
The Lesbian Herstory Archives visit – Friday
South of the Fales Archive in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn is the Lesbian Herstory Archive,prior to my trip I wrote to the archives explaining the reasons for my visit and the co-founder Deborah Edel very kindly agreed to meet with me to answer some of my questions.
Deborah met me at the door and we embarked on a fascinating sift through the archive collections. She also gave me a guided tour of the building which consisted of a basement store, ground floor library, study room, kitchen video library, bathroom display area, and bedroom stores. Every inch of the space they have is used and what is great about the Herstory is the way in which artefacts and ephemera are shared with visitors, the trust they put in their visitors allows them to make the collections freely accessible in this way. This approach leads, I feel, to a more open and creative way of working for a researcher coming to use the collections. They are doing their own thing with diligence, passion and commitment.
The Lesbian Herstory Archive describe themselves as a DIY archive, they strive to offer their services for free, they do not seek government funding and they believe in building grassroots support for their archive. Founded in 1974 it was based in Joan Nestle’s Upper East Side Manhattan Apartment on 92nd Street, where it stayed for 15 years. In the mid 1980s they began fund raising events in order to move to a larger premises, they managed to raise enough to purchase a house in the Park Slope, Brooklyn in the 1990s.
The Archives main space was filled with books – a feminist library, they have a large collection of lesbian literature much of which is now out of print. Interestingly in the early days of collecting the books it was decided that they would not classify the Fiction/Biographies/Autobiographies by surname but instead they indexed them by first name, they considered the use of surname to be a male dominated system and refused to use it.
The lesbian Herstory Archives also do not follow the Library of Congress rules of classification, they see it as a male patriarchal institution and are not interested in the categories they use. Instead they use the ‘Circle of Lesbian Indices’ and from this they developed how they categorised their collections and the terminology they used. Deborah told me that they have pretty much stuck with the same terminology since the 1970s the only thing that they have changed is the description category “Black Lesbians”, they changed it to “African Ancestor Lesbians”.
The Herstory Archives refuse to take government money to help fund their work because they see the government as a body who has discriminated against them throughout history, they are funded completely by donations and are run be volunteers. This gives them a certain amount of freedom in the way they organise the collections and the levels of access they give to visitors. The Herstory approach is more liberal and creative because of the lack of restrictions. They care for the collection as any other archives would and they are responsive to the conservation needs of them. They are creative in the way they give access to the collections, on my tour of the building I was taken upstairs to the storage areas which would have once been the bedrooms and on passing from one to the other I came across the 1930s bathroom which had a display of photosgraphs, badges and magazines. Just outside the bathroom was a recessed wardrobe area in which hung jackets and dresses which once belonged to a Vietnamese Lesbian soldier, this approach of ‘getting the artefacts out’ was incredibly inspiring. Around each corner there were little displays of artefacts (unrestricted by display cabinets) that told a story about that donors life, and Deborah was able to lead me from one story to another.
On one book shelf was a framed photograph of a lady and a grouping of personal knick-knacks which once belonged to her, Deborah told me that the woman in the photo wanted all her possessions to be left to the Herstory Archive after her death. When her family read her will, it was the first time that they realised that she was a lesbian, she had been unable to tell them whilst she was alive. The Herstory Archive made arrangements to collect the items and drove a truck across America to pick them up, so that this woman’s story could be saved.
The tour continued and Deborah explained to me that that they also collect pamphlets, textiles, some objects, however, because of the storage issues they do not collect framed artwork by lesbians. I also asked Deborah about whether or not they had Access Restrictions on their collections and like the Fales Archive her response was that if a person gives them material then it is made clear that it will be made available to the public. They do accept that some collections need to be ‘locked down’ because of their sensitivity but on the whole they make it clear to the depositor the purpose of the archive. They were given a complete archive by a rape crisis centre once and the Herstory team decided to lock down this collection because it contained names of the victims this information was deemed too sensitive to be given public access. So the archive team tend to assess each donation on a cases by case basis, it is a group decision, and the group meets once a month.
The Leslie-Lohman Museum visit- Saturday
On the advice of Lisa & Deborah at the Fales and Herstory Archives I also visited the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art on Wooster Street, SoHo NYC. Their mission is to exhibit and preserve LGBTQ art, and foster the artists who create it.
The staff were really friendly and very kindly made time for me even though I just dropped in unexpectedly. They gave me a behind the scenes tour and chatted to me about the exhibitions they curate and the collections that they hold. The collection was begun in the 1987 by Charles Leslie and Fritz Lohman who began saving artwork from devastating destruction as men were dying of AIDS, they had no idea that their work would lead to the first and only museum in the world dedicated to the visual art that speaks to the LGBTQ community.
‘Our job is to make gay culture public. Accredited by the New York State Board of Regents in 2011, the Leslie-Lohman Museum explores ideas through visual art that tell the stories of who we are. We do more than just place art on our walls we strive to make everyone think, regardless of who they are’.
They have more than 20,000 objects in their collections works by Catherine Opie, David, Wojnarowicz, Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, George Platt Lynes, Jean Cocteau, Del LaGrace Volcano, Deborah Bright and many others. I met with Wayne Snellen the Deputy Director of Collections who very kindly gave me an introduction in to the types of things they collected and their approach was very similar to what we are trying to achieve with Bury’s Text Art Archive which is a mix of archival ephemera and original artworks. Both Wayne and Kris the Exhibitions and Communications Manager were keen to stress to me how important they felt that a visitor to their collection archive could see whatever they want and they did not adhere to traditional archive search-room etiquette, they saw this as blocking the creative process.
Whilst I was there they had an exhibition in the main gallery called Stroke: A Retrospective of Erotic Illustrations for Gay Mags’. I managed to take a few shots of the museums interpretation techniques, it was interesting that their mentioned lots of personal information about the artist and their sexuality.
In their Wooster Street Window Gallery, there were photographs by Spanish artist Gonzalo Orquin – Si, quiero. This installation re – creates the artist’s images that were scheduled to be exhibited at a private gallery in Rome in late 2013 . However, the exhibition never occurred because authorities at the Vatican objected to the original photographs and threatened legal action against the gallery . The Vatican claimed the images showed
“expressions of affection that do not belong in a place of worship.” The Leslie – Lohman Museum installation will be on view and visible from the street in the Wooster St. Window Gallery 2 4 hours – a – day .