Potential Archives How Digital Humanities and Feminist Ethical Praxis Will Transform the Interdisciplinary Artist Archive

1. Abstract

Potential Archives: How Digital Humanities and Feminist Ethical Praxis Will Transform the Interdisciplinary Artist Archive

As digital media conservators Deena Engel and Glenn Wharton identify in the premise for the Artist Archive Initiative at New York University, conventional approaches to the artist archive neglect to study how the complexity of an artist’s interdisciplinary creative practice can confound conventional archival systems and practices. My project demonstrates how artists’ archives benefit from non-traditional archival methods that combine emerging digital archival strategies that accommodate and represent community networks and collaborations with the intervention of the artists themselves in the co-creation of accessible multimedia archives. Digital methods will enable artists to augment and customize their archival holdings with attributes such as narratives/narration and networked information.

         The need to reconsider material and organizational aspects of artist fonds also has immediate and practical consequences for institutions. Often collections are broken up, and/or the acquisition process can be delayed by technical and policy-driven challenges. National funding opportunities, such as the Canada Council for the Art’s Digital Strategy Fund (DSF), add further incentive to the demand for fundamental procedural change.

         Archival scholars have identified two interrelated contentions underlying current approaches to artists’ archives within the present academic and archival milieu: systemic issues fundamental to archival conventions and practices, and shortcomings of formal organizational strategies within such practices. Feminist archival studies scholars such as Michelle Caswell, Marika Cifor, and Stacy Wood have identified that traditional archival practice is often rooted in colonial and patriarchal cultural and structural conditions. Engel and Wharton, scholars of artists’ archives, have addressed how the limitations of conventional archival systems often fail to accommodate the kinds of information, accuracy, and logistical affordances scholars and art professionals require for their research. Specialists in feminist archival studies respond to such organizational shortcomings, observing how the practice of the co-creation of archives with the artist(s) represented within the collections can contribute meaningfully to the value of the collection for scholars and communities. Caswell and Cifor’s proposal for a “feminist ethical framework” for archival studies situates the archive socially and culturally, with consideration of relational and affective contexts (24), and Cifor and Wood argue that “critical feminist theory can contribute to existing archival discourse and practice, critiquing concepts that have remained unquestioned, such as community and organization” (3). The addition of autobiographical, narrative, and networked data and digital media forms enable increased access, and have the potential to transform the relationships between artist, archival institution, and user.

         This paper explores two main, preliminary ideas: why a transformation of the organization of artist archives is timely and important; and how digital methods and platforms have the potential to benefit artists, arts scholars, and arts archivists. Potential Archives is both a study and a framework, providing both a map of how these non-traditional methods have worked in the past, and a model for how to develop future artist’s archives. My study and resulting framework will reconceptualize the interdisciplinary artist archive according to emerging feminist and digital epistemologies and methods to help artists plan for and prepare their future institutional archives and address emerging needs and concerns, while also assisting arts institutions in addressing such innovations.

Caswell, Michelle. “Teaching to Dismantle White Supremacy in the Archives.” The Library Quarterly vol. 87, no. 3, July 2017, pp. 222-235.

Caswell, Michelle and Marika Cifor. “From Human Rights to Feminist Ethics: Radical           Empathy in the Archives.” Archivaria no. 81, Spring 2016, pp. 23-43.

Cifor, Marika and Stacy Wood. “Critical Feminism in the Archives,” in “Critical Archival Studies,” eds. Michelle Caswell, Ricardo Punzalan, and T-Kay Sangwand. Special Issue, Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies no. 2, 2017, pp. 1-22.

Engel, Deena and Glenn Wharton. “Managing Contemporary Art Documentation in          Museums and Special Collections.” Art Documentation: Journal of the Art       Libraries Society of North America vol. 36, no. 2, 2017, pp. 293-311.

Julia G. Polyck-O'Neill (jp03uw@brocku.ca), Brock University, Canada

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