A.2 "Affective Responsibilities:" Feminism, Care, and the Creative Transformation of the Archive, Part 1

Wed Oct 20 / 9:30 – 11:00 PDT
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chairs /

  • Leah Modigliani, Temple University
  • Julia Polyck-O'Neill, York University

Michelle Caswell and Marika Cifor destabilize and denaturalize the idea of the neutrality of the archive when they position the archivist as caregiver, with "affective responsibilities" (36–38). Once understood to be objective, resolute, and determinative, archives have long been central to art historical methodologies. That is, until all those excluded from the historical record started to speak up loudly from the dustbin of history, not quite swept away after all. Today, standing at the edge of a multitude of 21stC disasters, art history has turned to interrogating its own methodologies in an effort to do things differently; to enact new ways of being. This panel invites participants to consider how feminist methodological, epistemological, and political changes have transformed "the archive" and how archival studies are understood and/or used in visual arts-based research. The organizers also welcome submissions from artists engaged in archival research and practices, papers on relevant case studies, and/or proposals from scholars or artists that discuss emerging or alternate archival forms or collections.

work cited: Caswell, Michelle and Marika Cifor. From Human Rights to Feminist Ethics: Radical Empathy in the Archives. Archivaria no. 81, Spring (2016): 23–43.

Leah Modigliani is an Associate Professor of Visual Studies at Tyler School of Art and Architecture. She is an artist and scholar who rejects specialization in favour of transdisciplinary engagements with fine arts, art history, critical geography, urban studies, and politics. Modigliani's projects arise from a network of concerns, including the history of the avant-garde and its relationship to political critique, feminist art and writing, social dissent since 1968, the history of photography, performance and re-enactment as political strategy, and the pernicious effects of neoliberal capitalism. At the node of these networks is her central concern with how an individual's freedom of expression is destroyed, curtailed, or displaced through socio-economic factors beyond their control. Modigliani's artwork has been exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Museum (Philadelphia), Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (San Francisco), Colby College Museum of Art (Waterville, ME), the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (Halifax), amongst other places. Her critical writing can be found in many academic journals and magazines and her first book, Engendering an Avant-Garde: The Unsettled Landscapes of Vancouver Photo-Conceptualism, was published by Manchester University Press's Rethinking Art's Histories series in 2018. She is currently working on her second book, Counter-Revanchist Art in the Global City, to be published by Routledge in 2023.

Julia Polyck-O'Neill is an artist, curator, critic, poet, and writer. A former lecturer at the Obama Institute at Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz (2017–18), international fellow of the Electronic Literature Organization, and fellow of the Editing Modernism in Canada project, she is a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Visual Art and Art History and the Sensorium Centre for Digital Arts and Technology at York University where she studies digital, feminist approaches to interdisciplinary artists' archives for her project, Potential Archives: Envisioning the Future of the Interdisciplinary Artist Archive in Canada. She is currently developing a monograph based on her SSHRC-supported dissertation, Rematerializing the Immaterial: A Comparative Study of Vancouver's Conceptual Visual Arts and Writing, which she completed at Brock University. Her writing has been published in Zeitschrift für Ästhetik und Allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft (The Journal for Aesthetics and General Art History), English Studies in Canada, DeGruyter Open Cultural Studies, BC Studies, Canadian Literature, Avant Canada: Poets, Prophets, Revolutionaries (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2019), and other places.

A.2.1 Records of Care: Carole Itter's The Pink Room and the Affective Archive

  • Jennifer Douglas, University of British Columbia
  • Alexandra Alisauskas, University of Calgary

Following the death of her daughter Lara Gilbert by suicide in 1994, Vancouver artist Carole Itter turned to her artistic practice to work through her own grief and tell the story of her daughter's life, sexual assault, and untimely death. While Itter is best known for large-scale assemblages using found materials from the beaches, forests, and neighbourhoods of Vancouver, in The Pink Room: A Visual Requiem (1999), Itter mined her daughter's archive, compiling excerpts from Lara's journals, school records, birth and death certificates, notes from her medical files, as well as treasured stuffed animals and objects to create a series of quilts in an immersive installation. Itter intended The Pink Room to bring awareness to and public acknowledgement of Lara's experiences of sexual assault and incest; she encouraged visitors to access resource materials included in the installation and invited them to provide comments in a visitor's book about their experiences. As well as assembling Lara's materials in this intimate, memorial artwork, Itter was editing Lara's journals for publication, and organizing and compiling her personal documentary materials as an archival collection to be donated to the University of Victoria.

In this case study, we extend Caswell and Cifor's view of affective responsibility to include archival creators by situating Itter's work with her daughter's records as one means through which she enacts affective responsibilities for her daughter's life and memory, for the records themselves, and for her audience(s). Focusing on the affective power of Itter's "records work" (Douglas, Alisauskas and Mordell 2019), we seek to shift attention away from the archive as an object of care and instead consider the archival form itself as a powerful agent of care work capable of representing as well as building and nurturing relationships.

Jennifer Douglas lives and works on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the xwməθkwəy̓ əm (Musqueam) people. She is an assistant professor in the School of Information, University of British Columbia, where she teaches courses on personal archives, archival arrangement and description, and archival research and scholarship. Her research interests include personal and intimate archives, the emotional dimensions of archival work, person-centred approaches to archival theory and practice, and archival representation and its histories.

Alexandra Alisauskas recently completed her MAS/MLIS at the School of Information at the University of British Columbia, pursuing the First Nations curriculum concentration, and is a learning and engagement librarian at the University of Calgary. Alexandra also holds a PhD in visual and cultural studies from the University of Rochester and was previously an arts writer, researcher, and educator. Her interests include artists' and writers' archives, digital collections, and person-centred approaches to library, archival, and information services. She lives as a guest on the unceded territories of the xwməθkwəy̓ əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səlíl lwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) nations, and on the traditional territories of the people of the Treaty 7 region in southern Alberta.

A.2.2 Rethinking Archive Exhibitions: A Feminist Proposal

Garazi Ansa-Arbelaiz, University of the Basque Country

Archive exhibitions have been, above all, strategies used from the feminisms to try to transform and question the hegemonic narratives of the art history and system. The possibilities offered by the archive, especially according to the Derridian and Foucauldian theories, have been the main reason for choosing this typology to achieve the aforementioned objectives. However, the application of these theories in this type of specific project has tended to have not very good results on their final objectives, i.e. on creating new historical narratives. Both, the Derridean and Foucauldian theories, are focused mainly on the analysis of the archive system itself, but they don't delve into the ways it operates, namely related to people. Thus, these theories that relegate the importance of the body in relation to the archive, influence the decisions that curators make about the installation of the archives in exhibitions. The installations directly condition how visitors interact with the archive, and in consequence, how knowledge is generated.

This paper seeks to highlight the importance of understanding the archive from a feminist gaze, especially connected to exhibitions. In this way, the archive becomes an inclusive system related to bodies, which operates through affections and care. It becomes a tool that creates other types of relationships with the visitors, horizontal relationships, body-to-body, eliminating the implicit hierarchies of exhibition rooms. This presentation suggests a new approach to the concept of the archive, based on the matrixial theory of Bracha L. Ettinger that could be used to reshape the installation of archives in exhibitions. Moreover, it will be completed with the results that were obtained from the implementation of this new theory on the exhibition Hemen dira hutsunean igeri egindakoak. Tururú (Azkuna Zentroa, Bilbao, 2019).

Garazi Ansa Arbelaiz is a lecturer in the Department of Art History and Music of the University of the Basque Country. She has recently earned a PhD in Art History, and her research is focused on the curatorial and the archive from a gender perspective. She has published in several academic journals and has participated in national and international congresses, most recently as a guest speaker at SELECT. Conceptions of Active Archives International Study Day organized by Marianne Wagner at Goethe University Frankfurt am Main (2021). Since 2012 she has combined university teaching and research with art criticism and curating. Her recent projects include Hemen dira hutsunean igeri egindakoak Tururu (in Azkuna Zentroa, Bilbao, 2019; and Artium Basque museum-Center of Contemporary Art, Vitoria-Gasteiz, 2020) and Festa Pagana in collaboration with Haizea Barcenilla (Miguel Hernandez University, Elche, 2020).

A.2.3 The Ethics of Care: Transnational Feminism as Archival Methodology

Rachel Lobo, York University

This paper considers transnational feminism as a methodology for archival practice, looking specifically at how collections management can be configured to address the plurality and constitutive complexities of collective histories of struggle and the materials that sustain these histories. In describing the relation between writing, memory, consciousness, and political resistance, Chandra Talpade Mohanty (2003, 79) argues that narratives of resistance must not only undo hegemonic recorded history, but that they must also invent new forms of encoding resistance, of remembering. More broadly, transnational feminist scholarship (Alarcon 1989; Anzaldúa 1987; Ford-Smith 1987; Sommer 1988) has posed serious challenges to liberal humanist understandings of subjectivity and agency — uprooting dualistic thinking in the individual and collective consciousness. They argue the necessity of conceptualizing notions of collective selves as the political practice of historical memory and writing by women of colour and Third World women.

This paper explores the possibilities, tensions and limitations of an archival practice grounded in oppositional consciousness and agency by mapping the memory trajectory of care work struggles in Toronto during the 1970s. Specifically, it looks at the publication archive of Domestics' Cross-Cultural News, founded by INTERCEDE in 1979 and housed within the online collection of the Rise Up! Feminist Archive. I argue here that in order to engage in the futurity of collections materials and foster the exchange of intergenerational knowledge, archival strategies must encode resistance and counter epistemic violence by: 1) decentring national and imperialist power structures as the organizing principle of collections; 2) acknowledging the plurality of feminist thought — incorporating multiple voices, and encouraging popular participation in archival work; and, 3) enlarging the scope of what is considered legitimate historical source material to include sites of memory (social movement ephemera, oral histories, letters, testimonies, protests, performances etc.).

Rachel Lobo is a PhD Candidate with the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change at York University, supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Her dissertation research maps the complex portrait of resistance that emerges within the photographic archive of the Alvin D. McCurdy fonds at the Archives of Ontario. In doing so, it situates Lake Erie and its environs as part of the Black Atlantic and Black radical tradition. Rachel received her Master's in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management from Ryerson University. She has published in Archivaria: The Journal for the Association of Canadian Archivists, and the International Journal of Canadian Studies.