Category Archives: Artists Using Libraries/Archives

Unreliable Narrators

Jonathas de Andrade, Tropical Hangover, Journal Entries

In contemporary art, the archive is frequently explored as a tool to cope with and understand history. Here, I’ve picked two projects that explore identity through documentation: one from Margia Kramer in the ‘80s, one from Jonathas de Andrade in 2009. Each explores the idea of myth making, storytelling, and the deliberate construction of history with misinformation disguised as truth.

Broad Museum Jonathas de Andrade, Tropical Hangover

Artist Jonathas de Andrade used journals and photographs that are not originally connected and threads them together to create one narrative. I recently saw his work, Ressaca Tropical (Tropical Hangover), on view at the Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University. Ressaca is a word used to describe the moon’s influence of the tides and is slang for “Hangover” which brings to mind that familiar process of piecing events together after a wild night out. Found images and journals are presented on the wall as a timeline building a visual history of the city of Recife in northern Brazil. Much like our memories, there are gaps in the story and what Andrade pieces together is sometimes unreliable. Read more on this project here.

Kramer, Seberg, FBI

Activist artist Margia Kramer’s publication Essential Documents brings attention to FBI files that were part of a slandering mission undergone against actress Jean Seberg after the actress donated money to the Black Panther Party. Seberg is remembered as a fashion and film icon, but the less recounted part of her story is the harmful FBI investigation. Kramer’s work catalogs that trauma and tells of misinformation provided to the press by the FBI. Soon after Seberg’s death Kramer made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the release of those FBI files. FOIA requests are an important part of Kramer’s work and her way of of building a critical consciousness around government surveillance and handling of information. Read more on this project here.

Both artists are using primary source material (i.e. letters, photography, government documents) which we take to be trustworthy and unassailable, to show how the authority of the documents should be questioned. Not only are our memories flawed but items kept in an archive have the potential to be misconstrued too.

Images borrowed from top to bottom: The State of L3, Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, and the Franklin Furnace Archive.

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keeping things.

Stephanie Diamond ImagesSomewhere in the pile of stuff in my new apartment (just moved), I have a bright pink box, the word “archive” handwritten in blue on a piece of paper slid into the box’s plastic placeholder. The box’s contents are a mishmash of various stages of my life; notes passed in anthropology class, postcards from traveling friends, high school concert tickets, party invitations, photos of people I don’t know, love letters, and an assortment of scraps from past friendships. On occasion, I’m going to share on this blog some items I’ve saved in this archive box. I bet there are a lot of similar boxes out there, so I’ll also point out individuals doing more interesting things with their personal archives. Have you come across any ingenious uses of personal artifacts?

Stephanie Diamond ImagesKeeping archives not only gives people a sense of personal satisfaction, but can also be a creative inspiration. When my friend Erik introduced me to artist Stephanie Diamond’s Listings Project, I was struck by how her personal and family archive of over 200,000 photographs crept into her artistic work. The photo archive launched a number of creative projects including her It Would Look Like series. In one, Diamond asks young mothers living in the non-profit Project Row Houses in Houston questions about the types of photos they’d like to display in their homes and selected photographs from her archive base on the mother’s answers. The mothers in turn were given photos which closely matched their requests, giving new life to the photographs and gifting visual art to new families.

In Captive Audience she challenged participants to ask themselves, “If I were to go to prison, and I could only bring one photograph with me, it would look like…” She got over 100 responses and spent weeks rummaging in the archive to find photos that matched. When Diamond started incorporating the archive into projects it helped her see the photos in a new light. Diamond’s work encourages me to stop letting my personal archive sit around my apartment for periodic peaking and start experimenting!

Any ideas? How can our archives be the medium for something greater?

For more about Stephanie Diamond read this stellar profile by Jessica Breiman http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/stephanie-diamonds-social-practice/

Photos are borrowed from Stephanie’s website.

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