Category Archives: Uncategorized

OURS – by Professor Jeffrey Robinson

People who have experienced homelessness have collaborated to make a medieval-style illuminated manuscript, based upon The Book of Hours, describing their daily lives. Unbound pages from the book debuted at Bury Art Museum on May 18 2021, on show until mid-July 2021. 

A BOOK OF OURS was handmade in Manchester, England 2019-21 by over 100 people with lived experience of homelessness, or at risk of homelessness. The project was devised and directed by poet Philip Davenport and visual artist Lois Blackburn, as arthur+martha. Significant events, celebrations, memorials document these hugely individual lives, in a large visual-poetic work by people who don’t appear in official histories. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund; workshops took place at The Booth Centre and Back on Track in Manchester.

1. “Ours”

O-U-R-S occupies H-O-U-R-S, just as P-O-E-T-R-Y occupies P-O-V-E-R-T-Y.  In each case just one consonant (H, V) separates oppression from value, identity, and beauty.  The book intervenes in an injustice.  “The intent in our case is that this homeless history, this culture is iterated and has a place to arrive on a page, to be finally OURS” (Philip Davenport).  Time for the homeless can be a steely clock marking deprivations and chaos, an imposition from without of relentless vulnerabilities to lack: lack of shelter, lack of health and health care, lack of stability and safety.  The imagination learns to reinforce this trap of time.  In the art room, organized as an arthur+martha event, the mind begins to free up…

“Mine” becomes “Ours”—what is possessed is voice, memory, reflection, wisdom of not the solitary individual but many persons brought together, who co-exist on the page and in the book; they possess the untold history of people with lived experience of homelessness.

2. Leaders of The Book of Ours Project

The ethics behind The Book of Ours and Homeless Library projects: “the story is theirs to tell.”  How do the leaders of arthur+martha fulfill this remit when it is they who have planned, organized, and conducted, and participated in the lives and imaginations of people with the lived experience of homelessness?  They come with various marks of visibility and power that a society based upon inequality confers on some but denies to others.  Phil Davenport and Lois Blackburn, along with their colleague in music Matt Hill, acknowledge the privilege—with its access to workshop space, funding, and education—as they are vigilant about reducing to a minimum the temptations of appropriation and exploitation of the precarious vitality of other lives.  They characterize their roles as “curators or midwives” (Matt Hill) of lives and works not their own.  They are conservationists in the way that poets, from the beginning of recorded poetry, “conserve the image of a person across time” (Allen Grossman).  They facilitate, rather than control and interpret, an event of living and shaping.

A man called J came into a music session and, listening to Matt’s guitar, asked if he could borrow it for a moment.  A very good player, he began a striking melody, which Matt immediately recorded.  Matt asked J to repeat it but he suddenly became shy.  Matt nonetheless placed it as an undersong to “Killing Floor,” returning to the fragment throughout the song.  J didn’t know where his melody came from: an unidentified shard of musical history saved from oblivion by Matt’s attentive and practiced ear, a disarming presence not interpreting but apprehending and conserving something of value.  Commissioning becomes a form of collective artistic practice: I will do some of the work on your behalf . . , but, says Lois, “we are always checking where the power is,” making sure that noone’s authority gets usurped by another’s.  To intervene or enhance often means to compensate for a severe handicap—most evident, the leaders come to their project with acquired training: when they see a blank page, they know how to begin filling it up, with language or with design.  Without that experience, a person “comes [to the page] naked into the world,” terrified of a boundariless emptiness.  The leaders give them boundaries, coordinates.  The artist Lois draws a horizontal line, puts in an image, marks out a space for a text; the poet Phil lineates the poetic speech of a participant.  Phil, Lois, and Matt, along with the other makers around the table, abolish the terror of creation in isolation.

Phil introduces the participants to Blake, Shelley, Hildegard of Bingen, and The Book of Hours, at which point he lets go.  The books join the mayhem of pages on the worktable. 

3. The Archaic and an Imperfect Fit

 “Archaic” in this project stands for anything that grates against the idea of art as purity, consistency, and singularity of construction, which usually points to a principle of exclusion of unwanted materials and voices.  “Imperfect fit” (1) characterizes art that deliberately fosters signs of what perfection would call a mistake or an inaccuracy but that in fact signifies inclusion.  For example, calligraphy, itself “archaic,” appears throughout The Book of Ours, gorgeous and polished, but it appears inconsistently, along with less polished penmanship.


The Book of Ours draws us back to the archetype of circle and cycle; positively and negatively intertwined, signifying hopeless repetition and also renewal, or repetition as transformation:

And the CIRCLE

Of homelessness itself (March)

Rough sleep. SHELTER. Outside once more (April)

Pregnant, homeless, skeletal, autumn. Reunited

Don’t get yourself lost in circles

Wheels on fire, rolling down the road (October)

At the same time, the poet sings: “We are satellites stars surround us,” as do the seasons that give comfort, excitement, rest, and renewal, all marked in the book itself.  A great act of imagination and artistic imagination bring the makers from circles of despair caused by the circle of homelessness itself to at least a vision of belonging to the cosmic cycle; note the mysterious juxtapositions in “Pregnant, homeless, skeletal, autumn. Reunited” — belonging to both versions of the circle at once.

When the sun coming up

The golden cogs of the clock.

Usually representing mechanical circles, here the cogs belong to the generative source of the sun.  The second line has been snatched from Lawrence’s poem and song, being made to live again in a new context.  “Round”ness becomes support and even transformation: “the seasons bring us round again.”  In the midst of the cycle of an expression of malign and indifferent forces controlling one’s subsistence emerges the will and the vision: “you can TURN things around better.  The following calendar lines from October, each line composed by a different person, are heart-rending; they convert private pain into a vision of cosmic coherence:

You broke it all. Start again

Please don’t punish me again, God.

My being belongs to the elements.

The first line re-evaluates brokenness because after the full stop is a petition for new beginning.  In the fatalistic imagery of circles, “broke” layers personal failure but with a consciousness of the interruption of failure’s grim cycle.  To start again is to renew a cycle but now on one’s own terms.  The “again” in the second line, addressed imploringly to God, is a brief prayer against resignation and helplessness and pain, but invoking the divinity, it at least reaches beyond the immediacy of one’s material existence as perhaps a point of self-recognition.  The centrality of the cosmos in A Book of Ours indicates the TURN towards that realignment: “We are satellites. Stars surround us.” .

5. Monuments

“Adam’s Curse,” (2) refers to labor as the curse, but The Book of Ours celebrates that labor and reveals laborers as an at least temporary community: a monument of labor is a contradiction that reflects a takeover of a tradition by the people who actually constructed it.  A monument, religious or secular, takes its viewer or reader out of the world of daily life into a vision of undiluted power.  The audience is stunned, transported.  The Book of Ours, itself a monument, draws its audience into a stimulating confusion.  The Book of Hours encourages reflection, interiority and prayer; and The Book of Ours?—


  1. Allen Fisher
  2. W.B. Yeats


Perhaps a manifesto – visual poetry from prehistory to the now






A History of Visual Text Art is a gargantuan overview of visual poetry and text art by visual poet karl kempton, who is interviewed below with editor/publisher Philip Davenport.


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kempton begins with newly-available prehistoric evidence, finds paths through complex clusters of religious and political influence across the globe and then moves into a long review of the 20th and 21st centuries, from the Russian Avant Garde to the Stieglitz Circle, Concrete Poets to Conceptual Art, Word Painting and Iconographic Painting, and beyond. An emphasis of the book is to celebrate voices and visions that have been sidelined in official verse history. The Text Festival shares this approach. 

The book was published as a “prequel” to The Dark Would anthology (2013), which was an outshoot of the Text Festival, also edited by Philip Davenport who is a longtime associate of the Festival.

Interviewer Gary Cummiskey from Odd magazine is in conversation with karl kempton and Philip Davenport. This interview was first published by Odd in 2019.




20. Asemic Zen Bull


karl, what motivated you to start compiling the book, and how did you, Philip, get involved from the publishing aspect?

karl: Before we begin, I would like to thank The Odd Magazine, its Editor Sreemanti and you for your interest in the book, visual text art and visual poetry. It is an honor for us to be featured. I have received a great many benefits from India and am happy to be able to add something to its culture.In 2004 Dan Waber asked me about the differences between concrete and visual poetries. From that question came my long overview, “VISUAL POETRY: A Brief History of Ancestral Roots and Modern Traditions,” that he published, containing many hot links for those interested in examples and supporting text sources. As far as I am aware, no English language individual has attempted another comprehensive global overview beginning with rock art to add to or correct my “Brief History.” Over the years some links broke or died.I have many interests and activities outside visual poetry; this includes working as a marine environmental activist and protecting sacred sites of the Northern Chumash. In 2013 I turned over my efforts (23 years of research: writings, tables, and maps) to a skilled committee. Years of monthly articles summing portions of these materials can be found here.That is when I turned to correcting the broken links and to add more commentary for “Brief History.” I was also asked to write an introduction to the Renegade Anthology. It became apparent quickly that there was more to learn in order to further the history of what became not a history of visual poetry, but rather a history of visual text art. Visual poetry is but one approach within this wider context. Understanding the wider context meant not only rewriting but widening my understanding of text usage in visual arts. I began the book in March 2013.

Philip: I’ve been fascinated by poems as and with images ever since I was a kid, reading Alice in Wonderland. When I was first published it was a set of poetic missing persons notices, which were in part image. I’d been chased by the police, billposting them. The British poet Bob Cobbing liked them and when he published me, he also introduced me to this world of seen words. In 2013, I made a language art anthology called The Dark Would, which brought together leading contemporary visual poets and text artists from around the world. In the virtual Volume 2 were 40 essays and interviews, but it still didn’t feel enough. When Márton Koppány showed me karl’s book, I knew that this was the prequel to The Dark Would.The relationship between this new book and The Dark Would is important because they share many characteristics. Both try to widen the field, the spectrum, we are in. Both try to restore silenced histories. Both work outside the academy, bringing in a different kind of knowledge. Both share this knowledge in a way that prioritises practice rather than theory exchange. And karl and I as people both define ourselves through this kind of art-making … It’s why this project has worked so well, despite other differences we have.


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Philip, you say that karl’s approach to the book is ‘unrepentantly non-academic’ – in what way?

Philip: This is a book from outside the academy. It represents voices and visions of people who were “outsidered” marginalised because they were outside academic institutions, on the edge of artistic movements – and frequently by society itself – because of their mental or physical health, or political or other beliefs. karl’s work is not academic in the traditional sense and several other senses (including visual!) He also is outside the academy, even though he represents a huge body of specialist knowledge. Mostly he adds this to his palette of visual/poetic expression. And to help him navigate an inner journey, which is not an academic pursuit, at least not in the western sense.

karl: The book is both objective and academic, subjective and autobiographical. The objective “academic” portions are attempts to present as accurate a history I am able on sourced accepted factual evidence. Some of the facts are parts of the often-repeated history of concrete and visual poetries; others are found among visual poetry histories ignored by concrete histories; and others belong to the wider history of an unwritten visual text history that provides a context for the concrete and visual poetry histories. Moving off the accepted academic story lines, though based on textual evidence, is perhaps where the more subjective portions of the book may be classified. The last section, “Among the Seers,” though based on factual materials may be considered subjective. Inserted throughout are autobiographical moments presenting direct experiences within the wider context. Some may look upon it as a visual poet’s or visual text artist’s personal statement, perhaps even a manifesto.



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If somebody were to talk to me about the origins of visual text art, I would think of Apollinaire’s Calligrammes, the visual text experiments of Mallarme’s Un Coup de Des, or (a little later) the work of artists such as Henri Michaux. But you point out that the origins of visual poetry can be found even in cave art or in the calligraphic scripts of the Arabic world, southern Asia and the Far East.

karl: The actual answer is unknown. I suggest that if the myths of the inventions of writing are visited, we see roots in many cases from nature or natural patterns. We do not know the oral context of rock art and thus whether or not visual poetics or an older parent were in use. It has just been announced that many rock art panels spread widely across Europe contained constellations and alignments to their stars. I am not surprised having found my first Chumash solar and polar star aligned site in 1978 with a later associated burial site dated of 9,500 years old.Early patterned alphabet and language is found on ancient charms, amulets, and yantras. Some have iconographics associated with them. Other early amulets were composed with hieroglyphic and ideogramic forms. Some of these shapes, alphabet and iconographic, have moved from rock art to pottery to other portable objects before parchment and then paper.


What is the relationship between visual poetry and concrete poetry?

karl: With Dick Higgins, publisher of the avant-garde Something Else Press, I co-guest edited a special visual poetry issue of the Canadan magazine, 10•5155•20, in 1983. That was the moment a concrete and fluxist publisher and poet agreed with my definitions of concrete and visual poetries. I have fine-tuned the definitions since. Both use fissioned particles of the stuff of language; concrete poets only create with text and its particles; visual poets fuse text and its particles with other arts. Concrete and other purists reject iconography mixed with text.I forget who asked the wider community who first used the term visual poetry as a specific type. Both Higgins and I pointed to the same date, 1965. In my book I go into greater detail to point out that contrary to its written histories, concrete poetry was not new as a visual text expression. Before concrete poetry were concrete art and concrete music. Nevertheless, it was the first global poetry movement. Many of us view concrete poetry as a specific movement and later a specific type of expression under the wider umbrella term visual poetry, a poetry composed that requires the reader to see the poem for a complete experience.Because of the self-imposed confines dictated by concrete poetry, many around the globe rebelled. To stand apart they embraced the term visual poetry. This should not be confused with a recycled term in current usage, vispo, a continuation of text-only concrete poetry.






Kenneth Patchen is one American poet and artist who gets quite prominent coverage in the book – and rightly so. But what about Ezra Pound? I am thinking of his introduction of Chinese characters into some of the cantos.

karl: My brief discussion of Pound focused on three concerns: 1) his knowledge and comments concerning one of many disappearing acts by concrete theoreticians and history myth-makers, the erasure of Henry-Martin Barzun, who Pound knew and was familiar with his visual poetry; 2) Blast; and 3) the Chinese ideogram error.His use of ideogram images as a visual poetry is suggestive and perhaps considered so by some. Not me. They can be considered illustrations of what he wrongly viewed in the context of his imagist poetic where the ideogram exemplified for him a purer poetic moment than available with alphabetical-based text. His use as illustrations, it seems to me, was to support his erroneous claim that Chinese ideograms were a visual language. Embedded in this approach one finds his mistaken view that the written form was a higher ideal than the spoken. He embraced Confucianism at the time when his peers, those also interested in Chinese culture, were pulled not towards hierarchy but Ch’an and Taoist poetics, they being anti-hierarchical.Philip: Pound is important, but he’s already given huge attention at the expense of other people. What karl brings is fresh news — people whose ideas haven’t already been ingested, Barzun is one, but the book contains a host of others. There’s also a renewed problem with Pound’s Fascism, given that we are in an age where the far right is resurrecting as populism, the alt right, etc. Those ideas don’t need any more oxygen, they need challenge. This book offers another reading of the history of visual poetry that includes traditions sometimes seen as threatening, like Arabic word painting, which has Islamic roots and would be considered “alien” by a European alt right organisation like Pergida.


The book also covers asemic writing, though I have noted that some visual poets are quite critical – if not dismissive – of asemic writing.

karl: I needed to address asemic writing because of its current popularity. I assume most of its composers remain, as most visual poets, uninformed about the history of visual text art on the one hand and the damage caused to all the arts by the philosophical arguments found in non- referential art.


What were the challenges in compiling and editing the book?


karl: The vastness of the subject matter is beyond one individual. Individual segments have been skillfully covered, but not the entire spectrum. Without the internet this project would not have been possible. In 1975 I consciously removed myself from active literary centers to pursue my poetic close to the ocean here in south San Luis Obispo County. There are no nationally ranked local research libraries. I do not have academic access or financial assistance for extended periods of time for library research. I also refused to venture out to research libraries, not wanting to add to my carbon footprint. Thus, throughout the six years of writing and researching, I added a significant number of books to my library. It took over a year familiarizing myself with some of the Russian Futurists and their influences, including a deep dive into ikon art from its beginnings. I uncovered an error that Orphism was an idea from Apollinaire; it came from Barzun. Correcting the Apollinaire contribution to visual text art required much research and the help of Michael Winkler, who visited the Barzun archives at Columbia University to photograph some of the vast collection of his visual poems.  The error in the standard history of Orphism, many references to Plato, and the Islamic Science of Letters pushed me to look afresh at the Greek philosophers and Orpheus. Many other jumped-through hoops are found in the book presenting my findings. These few examples illustrate my primary challenge, to present in-depth commentary on this complex subject matter.

Copyright law presented a maze I did not want to run. That is the reason the book is an internet-published pdf with over a 1000 hot links to individual works and various texts ranging from essays to books. We plan an e-book edition later in the year.Another challenge is my dyslexia. It requires me to burden others to be proofreaders. Also, in order not to become trapped in mistaken concepts, I need knowledgeable readers. Karl Young died during the writing. Márton Koppány has been an indispensable sounding board over the years for this book. Harry Polkinhorn has been generous with his time, especially proofing and assistance with Latin American issues. Gerald Janecek has been essential regarding Russian Futurism. Others noted in the Acknowledgements have also been of great help.

And, Philip Davenport, my editor and publisher, has added to the project making it far more than I first planned. Part of the addition was associating the book with the blog Synapse International online anthology, the first of its kind in India, thanks to its host Anindya Ray.Some of my peers regard this as a life-long work. They are not wrong. Without my many interests, including rock art, symbols, calligraphy, Vedanta, Sufism, Ch’an/Zen, North American First People Ways, the history of ideas, economic history, and the history of religions, the book would not have provided the wider context throughout history around the globe. Such context seems to me to be generally missing. The reasons for this are discussed in the book.

Philip: The problem for me was not to be an editor in the usual meaning of the word. The discussion within it had already been chewed over with two other editors: Karl Young and Márton Koppany. In addition, I wanted to respect karl as a dyslexic writer because I thought this was an essential part of his aesthetic, which affects how he sees words, sometimes in three dimensions and with inner light. Therefore, while I did some work on the text, it was with a delicate touch. Instead I brought in contrasting elements.My most visible editorial role was to insert sequences of poem/images in the book, by varied invited practitioners; then secondly to work on the blog which we decided would be a kind of second volume to the book, showing hundreds of works by contemporary visual poets and artists.


Philip, you say in the introduction that you don’t agree with all the ideas in the book – could you elaborate on your differences of opinion?

Philip: Collisions produce energy and there are some differences that have fed into the book. I grew up in a so-called religious war in Northern Ireland and that makes me suspicious of any religiosity, whereas karl’s worldview has spirituality as a touchstone. We have joked a few times about the fact that my gurus were the Sex Pistols and the poetic experimenter Bob Cobbing, rather than anyone from esoteric religious traditions. Therefore, I brought scepticism, a certain amount of humour, and a different set of references.But if this is anything, it’s a book that allows space for difference. It is full of stories of poets, artists and others who didn’t fit with the orthodoxy of their time. From the medieval mystic Marguerite Porette, who was burned for heresy, through to members of the Stieglitz Circle, who were silenced by critics, there’s a theme of people being silenced, or even erased. One of the unusual things about karl’s book is that it contains its own dissenting voice too, a series of letters from the remarkable visual poet Márton Koppány; it is only a short section, but it ripples through the whole thing. What is crucial is that it all serves to bring to light poets, artists, whose opinions differ from the official histories.


1. Shidarezakura


What is the relevance of such a book today? What is the relevance of visual poetry itself?


karl: It has relevance for those interested in the history and context of visual text art. I wrote this to correct what I saw as misinformation and missing information.Visual text art has the relevance of any art. Text wedded with image, because of available technology, has become ubiquitous. Stated above, discussions on concrete and visual poetries lack context and are guilty of misrepresentation (in my opinion). Also, the writings generally are caught in the centric web of concrete and or visual poetry points of view. Individuals wanting to move beyond cliché may find it relevant.



Philip: Linking words and visuality together is an ancient practice that goes deep into all of our pre-history. That crossover doesn’t stop at language and image. Making signs, making marks, leaving traces, making patterns, communicating through gesture, dance, all of these things are possibilities. And as our tech and our needs evolve, more possibilities will be added, not subtracted. (Do you know Christian Bok’s poem “Xenotext”, written with a bacteria?) The mistake is to think that any of the differences between media are barriers. They’re simply reservoirs of material for us to unlock and use. Advertisers, propagandists, signwriters, website designers, filmmakers, games designers… all combine media to add complexity, depth, power, resonance.Why wouldn’t poets want to use these materials too? We speak with the means that speak most deeply to us.



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RANDOM Archive Symposium 12 August

Saturday, 12 August, 11am-3pm
Symposium at Bury Art Museum

‘Silences, interventions, disruptions: Exploring the text art archive’
Invited artists, writers and researchers respond to the notion of practice based archives and the collection of text art held within ours. Including papers, performances, readings and informal panel discussions. A launch event for the 2019 Text Art Festival, and to mark the close of the RANDOM Archive exhibition.
The day will feature presentations and panel discussions with a number of artists and writers including Lauren Velvick, Lisa Wigham, Penny Anderson, Phil Davenport and Jez Dolan, with performances by Helmut Lemke and Rachel Defay-Liautard. We will consider the ways in which archives might be spaces used for generating text art, and ways in which this art might resist the constraints of the space. The afternoon panel will examine the people and narratives ‘absented’ from institutional archives and the practitioners who seek to create alternatives and mark out these histories. We will close with the launch of the 2019 Text Festival announcement by Director Tony Trehy, followed by drinks and a final opportunity to view the RANDOM Archive exhibition.
Lunch and refreshments provided – please sign up in advance (link)


Workshop: LGBTQI+ Archives Through Polari

Dolan, Jez - Polari - An Etymology according to a diagramatic by Alfred H Bair - BUYGM.1592.2014.JPG

Saturday 15 July, 1:30pm – 3:30pm

Join us this Saturday for a workshop which explores the Polari language and artworks relating to the research of this hidden coded language which are held by the Bury Text Art Archive.

Hosted by co-curator of the ‘Random Archive’ exhibition Hannah Allan and artist Jez Dolan who has carried out extensive research around Polari and other overlooked Queer cultural histories.

Image: ‘A Polari Etymology’ Jez Dolan (2013)


Please sign up using the link below or by calling the gallery on 0161 253 5878

All welcome – with or without knowledge of the subject area.


Exploring the various language categorisations that can be used when cataloguing an LGBTQ archive.

Part of the Random Archive exhibition at Bury Art Museum & Sculpture Centre which features work of national and international language artists which are part of Bury Art Museum’s unique Text Art Archive. For more information about this exhibition and related workshops please visit



Random Archive workshops

Running along side the Random Archive exhibition are a series of FREE workshops funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The workshops explore how to catalouge and care for community & personal archives, how to establish a DIY/Feminist archive, how to catalouge an LGBTQI+ archive and how to create your own Digital Archive. For more information on dates & times visit the Random Archive Workshop tab or Bury Art Museum website

Random Archive Exhibition – (20/05/2017- 12/08/2017)

Curated by Susan lord and Dr. Hannah Allan, the Random Archive exhibition features work of national and international Language Artists which is part of Bury Art Museum’s unique Text Art Archive. Random Archive attempts to push boundaries by questioning how an archive can be viewed, accessed and explored. This is a unique opportunity for visitors to get up close in a gallery setting to a collection which is usually kept in store, the public will be encouraged to interact with it and explore it afresh.


Earlier this year Philip Davenport, long time Text Festival collaborator, and Text Artist Derek Beaulieu began working on the idea of celebrating Text Festival Director Tony Trehy’s 20th year at Bury Art Museum & Sculpture Centre.

They came up with the exhibition TEXTfestschrift, which focuses on the notion of constructing memory. Philip and Derek set about inviting Text artists to contribute an original piece of art on this theme, and here are just a few of the art many artworks that we have received so far:

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The Exhibition opens August 2015

NYC Study Trip

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 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 .


‘The Arts and Archives’ Workshop Day at the Arts Council Manchester



My notes from the day (barely written up)

  • Initial conversations immediately revealed a ‘gap’ in language between archivists and artists working in archival collections. The phrase ‘creating an archive’ was constructively shot down by a leading archivist saying that archives are never ‘created’, they form organically through use, need and event. (And engagement with them will point back to those facts.) This notion made me think of the category in the Birmingham University Cadbury Library, of ‘artificial archives‘, in other words collections put together by a single person, deliberately appropriating items into a set. It’s their historical determination now that points to that fact of that collection and makes it an archive – rather than any enthusiast’s collections having archival status. 
  • (This assertion that archives are never created made me wonder where the space is for artistic intervention in them. Models of engagement and navigation can be pre-emptive and ‘creative’)
  • This point was emphasised – ‘Archives are anything that tells you who-what-where-when-how-why’ – An archive is the stuff, the place is arbitrary. 
  • An interesting difference that was pointed out between archives and museum collections is the issue of ownership. Archives are held on a permanent loan basis – they sit in the institutions and libraries purely to be preserved and for the sake of access. This is a key political point, in contrast to museum/gallery collections where a huge amount of effort is put into clarifying ownership and securing that. 
  • (The more I learn about the mechanisms of archives the more I feel they suit the discursive nature of the kind of art (and poetry) I’m into – artwork that resists commodity, single object, primary document. In archives the emphasis is on access and engagement, telling the whole story including the metadata, including the dirge and the shit, not claiming ownership, just presenting the material.)
  • The issue of metadata is a practical one as well as ethical – an email thread has to be archived with its contextual information otherwise it means nothing and isn’t strictly ‘provable’ 
  • The issue of media-specific artwork came up particularly when specific to unstable media. (Jpeg art is the a good way forward.)
  • A reflective moment considered that all this anxiety over archives is a cultural quirk. We are a record keeping culture and have been since medieval times. Our notion of heritage is culture-specific. An archive made in the UK of Chinese records is not a Chinese archive, but a British archive of Chinese records.
  • Overall the day framed the relationship between the arts and archives as a pretty standard engagement. An arts organisation or individual would research an archive and then create an art product based on that research. I am interested in the act of archiving, the act of navigating and negotiating an archive being the site of practice.
  • Altogether there was an over emphasis on funding strategies and preservation issues, rather than critical thinking about how the mechanisms relate to each other. (someone asked, what about Fluxus?)