Scaling the Ivory Tower with Jami Sailor (and counter-archival practices from outside the academy)

20 Feb

At a lecture by Ann Cvetkovich (a professor I would very much like to work with) this week on “An Archive of Feelings”, I asked a question in reference to the Fales Library Riot Grrrl Collection at New York University. What happens to an affective object when it is archived by an institution? Is it possible for an institutional archive to keep affect “alive” in a material artifact? Is it possible to create an archive that is open, that cultural producers are able to interact with and respond to? What is the difference between being archived, and archiving oneself (see Tammy Rae Carland’s Archive of Feelings)? Professor Cvetkovich responded to my admittedly ridiculously huge quesiton in two particular ways that stuck with me; first of all by mentioning the importance of exhibition in counter-archival practices (which I absolutely agree with), and secondly by pointing out that Kathleen Hanna has publicly claimed to be “not anti-institution.” Okay, well, I am not anti-institution either. Like Kathleen Hanna, I came out of an academic institution, and I also aspire to go back to one.

What is at stake here is the institutional practices we support, and how we can build a better, more democratic institution. Admittedly, I am not an expert on archives or (to use the technical term) library stuff, so these thoughts are primarily based in a deep belief in open access and the radical potential of universities. I would love for my librarian and archivist friends and acquaintances to weigh in on this, and I hope you do.

A recent article about the Riot Grrrl archive, hosted at the largest private university in the United States, reads:

“It’s certainly an impressive collection, but one that is cloistered away from the public at large. The catch is that you have to be a scholar to access it. If you’re writing your dissertation on feminist theory, you’re in luck. If you just want to see the blue dress because Pussy Whipped changed your life—and, if given the chance, it certainly will—that’s another story entirely.”

Kathleen Hanna’s filing cabinet seems to me to be an important touchstone for thinking about counter-archives– “Although the cabinet has functioned as a storage space for important documents, it has also been cataloged as a vital artifact in its own right.” The filing cabinet has functioned as an archival space in of itself; a subcultural archive now deemed worthy of “serious” study and entered into a serious archive. This is an archive that used to go on tour with a punk band, and now it’s behind locked doors at a private school. The question of a counter-archive, an archive of feelings, depends upon valuing the quotidian, valuing the subaltern, imbuing humble objects with great meaning. How can this counter-archive exist without being open and accessible?

Until every archive is open and every border falls,
❤ jb


2 Responses to “Scaling the Ivory Tower with Jami Sailor (and counter-archival practices from outside the academy)”

  1. Falesfan 1 August 28, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    Take a look at Fales’ mission:

    They aim to “provide access” to “support of the educational and research activities”.

    Often access restrictions are in place for various reasons, whether it falls outside of the institution’s mission goals, or at the behest of the donor. Looking at Fales’ finding aids, it seems that most of the riot grrl collections are “open to researchers”. This is not limited to those within the NYU community, or even to the academic community at large. Now, if you’ve ever been to Fales you know that the reading room is constantly packed.
    While you do not need a degree to view the collections, you do need to be researching for something. Just give them a reason for your request (whether it be for your art, your zine, your film, or what have you) and you will find those doors will open.

    Or better yet, organize an exhibition in which you want to display Hannah’s cabinet. I imagine Fales can then loan it out to you and you can exhibit it as democratically as you like.


  1. zines and the tower « your secretary is out - March 10, 2011

    […] a preview of some of the topics we are considering for our CZF panel check out J.Bee’s recent post on counter-archival practices and accessibility.  In a recent tweet, CZF said, “Wicked smart zinester? You might be interested in J Bee […]

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