Documenting the new art acquisitions for the Text Art Archive is well under way and we now have a temporary archivist (Helen) inputting the data onto our collections management database. You can keep track of our progress via twitter https://twitter.com/suelord6 and the Bury Archives Catalogue, search under: artwork http://archives.bury.gov.uk/
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 .
A Donation of 1960s Poetry Magazine With Hidden Gems
The Text Art Archive and I were very excited to receive a generous donation of a 1960s poetry magazine from a fan of the Text Festival. The donor was at Winchester School of Art with Brian Eno in the 60s where Eno went after his time at Ipswich College of Art.
The Ipswich College publication is very striking with a red cover with bold silver design (for which Eno is credited).The poems in the magazine are experimental in the 1960s spirit of the avant-garde.
Inside the magazine were some extra text art pieces including two fabulous large poster works by Richard Pinkney and some smaller uncredited pamphlet poems.
Loose inside the cover we were stunned to find an incredible type-written poem by Dom Sylvester Houédard. The poem is a long multiple page piece with handwritten alterations, called The Primamadonna and Child, and has a stunning concrete poem on the last page.
It’s a magnificent donation of stunning items, and hopefully will inspire more collectors to donate material to the archive where they can be conserved and made accessible to interested researchers. We would be very interested in any DSH scholars who would be willing to offer information about the work.
Anyone interested in the Richard Pinkney poster poems can see them in the upcoming exhibition at Birkbeck’s Petlz Room, Gordon Square from the 21st June to July 10th.
Art historian Antony Hudek chaired the talk which featured three contemporary artists and writers as well as the Bluecoat director, Brayn Biggs.
Hudek framed the opening discussion around the tension between archive as a site and archive as substance.
Within the notion of spatial, Hudek was also keen for the paths of genealogies to be considered as archive spaces.
Hudek pointed out that there’s been a shift in rhetoric around arts engagement with the archives; there used to be an emphasis on the trace, and what the archive revealed – in other words it was about disclosure. Now rhetoric is based on present activation and the current, present surface of the archive. And this activity is not nescessarily to do with us – archives are active without us.
Another interesting point that came up was that, for archives to remain active in cultural experience, to become the site of engagement they have to be open to foreigness, in other words, archives exists through being misinterpreted. They function best when beingappropriated by someone/something other to it.
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?)
A recent and major addition to the Bury Art Museum collection and Text Art Archive is an original edition of Robert Grenier’s Sentences.
The seminal L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry artwork is a case of 500 5″ x 8″ index cards each with a short typewritten poem, or sentence.
Bury Art Museum and the Text Art Archive have bought Edition of ‘W’ of a newly discovered batch of 26 that were printed at the same time as the original 1978 print run of 200, but lost until 2011.
Grenier has said that the unbound index cards are an homage to Robert Creeley’s, ‘Pieces’ which Grenier said accomplished steady sounding of the voiced process and real-time experience. (See/hear interview between Grenier and Charles Bernstein).
Of the 500 cards there is no relation of one poem to another – apart from the ‘fictions’ makes when read when made. Also, in Grenier’s performances of the work we can hear the sound quality and verbal events that each card brings about. Each utterance is an obscure, limited sentences that introduces a possibility wide field of possibilities.
They are very literal, simple words that have a projective capacity and in the way of sound poetry, create an extra-linguistic “reality”’.
Most of the poem cards were written in New Hampshire where there was “lots of white space around”.
Over the next few weeks I will interview Gallery Directory, Tony Trehy and Grenier researcher, James Davies (both poets themselves influenced by Grenier) to find out more about what this acquisition means to the Bury Art collection and the Text Art Archive, and also to practitioners in the UK.
Today I met with the Whitechapel Art Gallery’s Archivist, Gary Haines. Gary is coincidentally a fellow School of Art Birkbeck researcher as well as being the key body in charge of the Whitechapel’s vast archive of records produced by the Gallery from the past 100 years, including publications, rare documents, artists’ letters, photographs, graphic works, press records, exhibition plans and installations, recordings on tape and videos of artists, critics and curators.
The Whitechapel Archive is the perfect model to gauge and consider the systems in place in the Text Art Archive. The huge size of the Whitechapel archive underlined the necessity to keep archives somewhat loose, let its organisation anticipate a researcher’s wanderings, rather than strictly map them; do not lose sleep over ‘best practice’, let the logic and idiosyncrasies of the material guide how you structure the collection.
Here it was wonderful to see the feedback between the archive and the gallery – however they do not archive the actual art works, the ‘WAG Archive’ is mainly composed of exhibition material, admin and catalogues, press cuttings and education packs. While there is a generative and key system of exchange between the collection and the exhibition galleries, the archive a primarily document-based.
The reading room and archive exhibition room was definitely inspiring in terms of what can be set up as a space for engaging with archive material within the context of gallery curation.
It was a pleasure to talk with Gary about the practicalities as well as the intellectual practices of archiving. As researchers we shared a perspective on the various ‘ways into’ the material aspect of archives and how a priority for a project like this is to balance preservation with access. How one can experiment with access to the material however is what will make this project innovative – as well as the accessioning of artworks with the records.
Last week I made a trip to Denmark in order to make connections, see different art archives and attend a conference on curating sound art-archives.
On my first day I met with the wonderful artist and writer Ida Marie Hede Bertelsen in a bar in Copenhagen.
We talked about our current projects and some book-works she is involved in and her forthcoming publication. She is going to hopefully send some work to the archive.
The next morning I got up very early and took a plane to Aarhus. When I arrived I went straight to the Kunsthal – an art gallery and key international project space directed by Joasia Krysa.
The seminar was on curating sound art archives and was part of a three-stage seminar series on curating sound art. The seminars are organized by LEA and the LARM infrastructure Project (www.larmarchive.org). In close Collaboration with Kunsthal Aarhus, ZKM – Zentrum für Kunst und Medietechnologie, Goldsmiths, the Courtauld Institute, The University of Westminster and OCR (Operational and Curatorial Research). The event in Aarhus was introduced and hosted by Morten Søndergaard who opened up the ideas around interactive sound archive designing and how this specifically relates to the archive of the Finnish artist Erkki Kurenniemi.
The first presentation was by the artist group, Constant, who at Documenta 13 in Kassel had that curated a project that experimented in interactive installations of Kurenniemi’s vast and discursive cassette archive of ‘sound diaries’. Constant described that their challenge with this material ranged from the sheer vastness of the archive, to the ambiguous material of Kurenniemi’s sound documenting (sometimes interviews, sometimes humming and talking to himself in the car, sometimes intelligible nonsense, sometimes clear theorisations on art and science, sometimes reading out passing cars’ license plates), as well as the ethics of essentially making public the private records of people implicated by the audio – some cassettes even contain audio of Kurenniemi having sex . Therefore the processes through which the sound data had to be made accessible had to cushion and protect the individual characters in the diaries, filter and frame the large amount of material, as well as best representing the spirit of the archive. The key philosophy Constant appropriated in their approach was one of ‘random access’.
‘Random access’ was the answer to the question: what you do with a mass of unformed, unorganised material, how do you build an interface that maintains the integrity of the archive. For Constant this involved placing a series of algorithms onto the raw, digitised sound data. One such algorithm was called ‘Gradual Average’ which overlaid the sound information, each tape at a time, gradually and then gradually unlaid them, providing a spectrum of sound information. Within this spectrum what became clear – which hadn’t been apparent in the arduous process of listening to the tapes individually – was that Erkki’s voice (whether talking, humming, nonsensing) was the predominant sound in this archive.
Constant’s use of these devised software mechanisms for framing the archive also raised the question of what their role is in making the archive accessible: where they simply composing a new sound piece from the data? Were they behaving as artists, curators or archivists? For them the question was easily dismissed, what was important was the valued access to the archive.
This was a question that came up through the day – was the creative designing of interactive archives being an artist? Or another role? For me the question was to be turned on its head. What do the innovative interactive interfaces do to the role of the visitor-researcher and how does it frame their encounter? What do these instances of ‘archive roulette’ do to the archival knowledge? Or, what kind of archival knowledge is gained from these encounters? This is a question I put to Morgens Jacobsen who curated an intriguing sounding ‘audiobar’ with sound files coded into different coloured bottles that could be played at a specially designed bar. This took random access and interactivity to a new level that even more so raised the question archive knowledge. Jacobsen right emphasised the value of the kind of ‘stumble-upon content’ and the kind of knowledge-experience this allows.
The exhibition on at he Kunsthal was called CERTAIN PECULIAR THINGS AND IDEAS, OFTEN FAILED (OR, ON HUMANS, MACHINES AND RUNNING ALGORITHMS) and was part of the same season of programming by SYSTEMICS #1 and was, in itself answering some of the questions being untangled in the conversation.
That night I was introduced to the another major art location in Aarhus, the incredible Godsbanen. An enormous arts complex in an old railway station. Located at the Godsbanen at the Aarhus Literature centre who are currently working on a new Art Writing programme and masterclass. At the Godsbanen, introduced to me by Anne Steen Himmelstrup, they even have small apartments – where the train drivers used to sleep – for residencies and overseas guests. Like me…
The next day saw the beginning of a series of talks hosted by the literature centre as a launch to their art writing project – also held at the Kunsthal. I was lucky to catch the first talk by Caroline Bergvall who has been a major informer to their project.
Caroline’s talk was typically invigorating to my thinking about writing practices and: writing as articulation’; approaching material ‘illogically’; testing the smallest point of language materials; ‘body-led speech’; how to learn from and converse directly with other artists through their archive.
The art writing programme is certainly one to watch and I’m excited to see it develop.
I had to rush from there to the airport and fly back to Copenhagen.
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.