A perception shift that was necessary for me to get this project moving, and to begin to function as an archivist, was to resist viewing the archive from a researcher’s point of view. (I don’t need to lose my practitioner’s point of view – otherwise how would I understand vagueness?). As I researcher I would engage with the archive at the front door, by looking for the subject; an artist or a specific event. But from this back door perspective, there is no subject in the archive, only records gesturing towards the existence of a subject or an event. There are chains of evidence, led by documents that support the fact of the collection. Everything is kept in the archive on the basis that it is part of the evidential chain that leads to the fact of the collection. Curating an archive is not so much about imposing order onto chaos, but articulating the collection’s mess.
My first week working on the archive was a case of building its architecture.
How I built its architecture.
In diagram form this architecture looks like a root systems (they call it a tree but it’s not, it works down) that starts at the top with the name of your collection. The collection is the ‘National Text Art Archive’ or the ‘Arts Archive Collection’ (it will have more than one name to keep its meaning open and broadly attributable to different bodies). From the ‘collection’ the structure drops down into ‘sub collections’ including the Text Festival Archive. This drops down into three ‘series’: Text 2005, Text 2009 and Text 2011. Decisions from this point on how the material is organised from these series is the point at which this archive becomes authored. How do I break up the admin and correspondence, what do I do with the curatorial plans for various exhibitions and events within the festivals, how do I organise the trail?
Thoughts on the authorship of this archive’s architecture.
The architecture has to allow for the materials and records to mingle. It cannot be organised to the point where the trail leads too directly to each item, record or example of correspondence. You have to leave room for the archive to breathe, for readers of the archive to wander around in. This roominess in the archive is a question of controlled ambiguity, structured vagueness. This project (of building the archive) has to capture and be led by the Text Festival’s approach to collating and gathering materials, artists and documentation for a show. The TF has a way of working that is decisively imprecise and haphazard, this is how it stays exploratory, and experimental.