Activating the Archive: Local Collections and their Digital Reach
The archive is a space that is both place holder and site of activation. Traditionally, objects in the archive — be it printed ephemera, letters, photographs, official documents, or any number of other things — waited to be engaged and interpreted by disparate publics, through cataloguing, study, and exhibition. Today, with new online tools at our disposal, the archive has the potential to be digitized and made accessible to far wider audiences than could have been anticipated some decades prior. And yet, there are still so many urgent stories and profound histories that have largely been left out of archival records.
This panel brought together voices from three Brooklyn-based organizations – Asia Art Archive in America, Interference Archive, and the Franklin Furnace — that engage the digital and physical archive to further the goal of making visible a wide range of art-making practices, in both the United States and Asia. In a conversation moderated by Meghan Forbes, panelists explored how an archive can effectively build community through the preservation and propagation of certain narratives, and consider the natural dialogue between publishing platforms and collection practices.
Franklin Furnace‘s mission is to present, preserve, interpret, proselytize, and advocate on behalf of avant-garde art, especially forms that may be vulnerable due to institutional neglect, cultural bias, their ephemeral nature, or politically unpopular content. Franklin Furnace is dedicated to serving artists by providing both physical and virtual venues for the presentation of time-based art, including but not limited to artists’ books and periodicals, installation art, performance art, and unforeseen contemporary avant-garde artforms; and to undertake other activities related to these purposes. Franklin Furnace is committed to serving emerging artists; to assuming an aggressive pedagogical stance with regard to the value of avant-garde art to life; and to fostering artists’ zeal to broadcast ideas. Represented on this panel by Martha Wilson.
Martha Wilson is a pioneering feminist artist and art space director, who over the past four decades has created innovative photographic and video works that explore her female subjectivity. She has been described by New York Times critic Holland Cotter as one of “the half-dozen most important people for art in downtown Manhattan in the 1970s.” In 1976 she founded Franklin Furnace, an artist-run space that champions the exploration, promotion and preservation of artist books, temporary installation, performance art, as well as online works.
Interference Archive is a volunteer-run, community supported activist archive in Brooklyn. Since 2011, they have been collecting the cultural production of social movements—print ephemera, film, literature, and more—made available in a collection completely open to the public four days a week. This open stacks policy and volunteer-run structure offers a welcome alternative to the power structures scholars tend to speak of in theorizing The Archive. Interference Archive’s collection is activated through regular exhibitions and programming, as a way to engage with and learn from the rich history of social movement organizing. Represented on this panel by Jen Hoyer and Rob Smith.
Rob Smith is a librarian and communications professional with more than a decade of experience in the cultural and creative sectors, having worked in art galleries, creative agencies, and nonprofits alike. As a volunteer at Interference Archive, he has co-curated three exhibitions and produced numerous podcast episodes. Rob holds a Master’s in Library and Information Science, and an M.S. in Theory, Criticism and History of Art, Design and Architecture, both from Pratt Institute.
Jen Hoyer‘s background as a librarian and information worker spans public, school and special libraries in Canada, and she currently teaches K-12 students how think critically about the world around them through the lens of the local history archive at Brooklyn Public Library. She has been involved as a volunteer at Interference Archive since 2013, working on exhibitions, cataloging, and more. Jen loves working through how archives can help people understand themselves and their place in the world.
Asia Art Archive in America is a catalyst for new ideas that enrich our understanding of the world through the collection, creation, and sharing of knowledge around recent art in Asia. AAA’s mission is to collect, preserve and make information on contemporary art from and of Asia easily accessible in order to facilitate understanding, research and writing in the field. AAA in A strives to be pro-active in instigating dialogue and critical thinking through a series of regular educational programs, and hopes to raise awareness of and support for the activities of Asia Art Archive globally. Represented on this panel by Jane DeBevoise.
Jane DeBevoise is Chair of the Board of Directors of Asia Art Archive in Hong Kong and New York. Prior to moving to Hong Kong in 2002, Ms. DeBevoise was Deputy Director of the Guggenheim Museum, responsible for museum operations and exhibitions globally. She joined the Museum in 1996 as Project Director of China: 5000 Years, a large-scale exhibition of traditional and modern Chinese art that was presented in 1998 at the Guggenheim museums in New York and Bilbao. Her book Between State and Market: Chinese Contemporary Art in the Post-Mao Era was published in 2014 by Brill.
Meghan Forbes is the C-MAP (Contemporary and Modern Art Perspectives) Fellow for Central and Eastern Europe at The Museum of Modern Art in New York and a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Public Knowledge at NYU. She holds a PhD from the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Meghan is the sole editor of International Perspectives on Publishing Platforms: Image, Object, Text (Routledge, 2019), and she recently co-curated the exhibition BAUHAUS<>VKhUTEMAS: Intersecting Parallels, in the MoMA Library. Besides her academic publications, Meghan publishes regularly in venues of wider readership such as Hyperallergic, Literary Hub, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Words Without Borders, and the Michigan Quarterly Review.
Images courtesy of Franklin Furnace Archive, Inc.; Interference Archive; Ryan Buckley; Asia Art Archive, photo by Kitmin Lee.
This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.