Keynote: The Queer Art of the Counter Archive
Duration: 00:43:51; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 73.192; Saturation: 0.045; Lightness: 0.388; Volume: 0.235; Cuts per Minute: 0.068; Words per Minute: 47.622
Ann Cvetkovich is Ellen Clayton Garwood Centennial Professor of English and
Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Texas at
Austin. She is the author of Mixed Feelings: Feminism, Mass Culture, and Victorian Sensationalism (Rutgers, 1992); An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures (Duke, 2003); and Depression: A Public Feeling
(Duke, 2012). She co-edited (with Ann Pellegrini) “Public Sentiments,”
a special issue of The Scholar and Feminist Online, and (with Janet
Staiger and Ann Reynolds) Political Emotions (Routledge, 2010).
She has been coeditor, with Annamarie Jagose, of GLQ: A Journal of
Lesbian and Gay Studies. Her current writing projects focus on the
current state of LGBTQ archives and the creative use of them by artists
to create counterarchives and interventions in public history.
Chitra Ganesh and Mariam Ghani introduce Ann Cvetkovich
Ann Cvetkovich: I'm really excited to be here. Yesterday was amazing, I assume today will be the same. I'm really grateful to (?) for inviting me to do this keynote. I wrote them a little email saying this conference sounds great, I think I can contribute something. And they said 'Do you want to do a keynote?'
Ann Cvetkovich Keynote Speech, The Queer Art of the Archive. Ann Cvetkovich is Ellen Clayton Garwood Centennial Professor of English and Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Mixed Feelings: Feminism, Mass Culture, and Victorian Sensationalism (Rutgers, 1992); An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures (Duke, 2003); and Depression: A Public Feeling (Duke, 2012). She co-edited (with Ann Pellegrini) “Public Sentiments,” a special issue of The Scholar and Feminist Online, and (with Janet Staiger and Ann Reynolds) Political Emotions (Routledge, 2010). She has been coeditor, with Annamarie Jagose, of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. Her current writing projects focus on the current state of LGBTQ archives and the creative use of them by artists to create counterarchives and interventions in public history.
I was like 'Sure!' And time because time is so... they've put so many people together, I feel a bit lucky to have a bit longer than some people. But I am trying to be mindful of time.
I don't know if there will be time for questions or not, since (?). Let's see what happens.
Also thanks to Amita for all of her labours in making this happen; it's alot. I identify with all the A-words. 'Affect' - I think that's one reason why I'm here.
'Archive', also 'Academic', 'Artist', 'Activist'. Part of my talk is about what happens if you put all these things together.
I've been thinking already by virtue of being here yesterday about what I might have to contribute as someone who might especially stand for the academic side of things or the theory side of things, and as well as the affect side.
So one question I'll be trying to address is - What does theory have to offer to radical archival practice? But I say that with a certain sort of humility in the face of the specificity and materiality of the practices that so many of you are engaged in. And I think for this crowd - as I read over my paper - some of what I have to say is redundant. Because you all are already doing it. But it might be useful to also reiterate on certain points.
I will also say that I really identify with the constellation track. So in some ways, as a theorist, I want to figure out ways to connect the dots between different projects.
And I also want to say - I want to dedicate this talk to my dear friend José Muñoz who died in December. His Ephemera as Evidence is one of my favourite pieces of archive theory. Not least of all because his practice involved thinking alongside of artists, and using them as theorists.
Ten years after the publication of An Archive of Feelings, I find myself amazed by a proliferation of LGBT archives. That is part of what in many academic fields has been called the 'Archival Turn'. The push for LGBT state recognition, civil rights and cultural visibility has been accompanied by a desire for the archive - a claim that the recording and preservation of LGBT history is an epistemic right.
As exciting as these developments might be, in keeping with clear activist critiques of gay liberalism, they also call for caution and questions about what kind of archive we want. A traditional archive with paper documents and records, or one that uses ephemera to challenge what we mean by the archive.
Inclusion and assimilation into existing archives, a separate but equal archive, or an enirely different version of an archive - one that perhaps lies outside of a bounded spacial enclave. What and where is the queer archive? And what about the archive of feelings? My new subtitle for my talk was 'Archival Feelings - The Sequel', in part in acknowledgment of various projects by artist friends of mine who've actually taken up Archival Feelings.
This is Allyson Mitchell's rendition of my book In Sculpural form - as part of here show 'A Girl's Journey into the Well of Forbidden Knowledge'. Those are drawings made from photographs of books on the shelves of the Lesbian Herstory Archives which will show up in a later part of my talk.
So in answer to these questions, it can be useful to keep in mind what archive theory has been saying for some time about both, the need to critique existing archives, and the impossibility of creating them. Theoritical critiques put the brakes on liberal enthusiasm for the archive, as do queer approaches to identity and representation, that insist that visibility is not always possible or desirable.
Derrida has been a go to person for such critiques particularly because using the combined example of Freud's House and Psychoanalysis in Archive Fever, he focusses on the impossibility of archival practice, on how the desire for records escapes representation leaving a trail of traces, but never the always elusive real.
This same lesson is also available from the archives of colonialism, slavery and other histories of violence in which absences are not just a theoritical conundrum, but a very practical reality.
I found it useful to read Derrida in the colonial archive alongside the concrete example of spaces such as the Lesbian Herstory Archives with their fervent commitment to saving evidence of lesbian lives, often through very ordinary artifacts.
Building a grassroots archive is a somewhat different enterprise than looking for the traces of violence or hidden histories within state or national archives created for purposes of surveillance and epistemic control. The establishment of LGBT archives, especially lesbian ones, by activists interested in creating an archive where none has existed demonstrates a fierce optimism and commitment to survival that presents a stubborn challenge to critiques of the archive.
The safe space created by the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn, where a literal house protects the unwieldy and sprawling detritus of lesbian separatist culture is not a nostalgic or naive repository in any simple way.
This is one of my alternatives to the theory that we're given in something like Derrida - another, for me, key touchstone for an archive theory that's also based in art practices - the collaboration between photographer Zoe Leonard and film maker Cheryl Dunye to produce photographs of a fictional African-American woman for the film 'The Watermelon Woman'.
The need to invent the archive when one doesn't exist, acknowledges that the archive is missing. So if the archive becomes a fetish, its a clear one. And what survives in its place is not representation as positive image, but representation as a complex history of stereotypes and partial and contaminated documents and traces.
Many of the LGBT archives currently at public libraries and universities had their origin as grassroots archives collected not only by homophile and gay liberation organizations, but by individuals who insisted that their lives and the records they left behind were history, even when the rest of the world including public archives didn't care or didn't want to know.
The archive fever catalysed by the silencing, neglect and stigmatization of queer histories is a particularly powerful force, echoing the ferocity and perversity of queer sexual desire. I would call queer archives Archives of Feeling not only because they are motivated by stong feelings, but because they seek to preserve even ordinary feelings, the evidence of which is often ephemeral, or embodied in idiosyncratic collections and objects such as Tshirts, buttons, flyers, matchbook covers and sex toys.
I just wanted to put this slide up that is Joan Nestle's theory of Lesbian Herstory Archives. I'm not going to read it all. but I just wanted to flag for people - this happened also yesterday I think - this very particular philosophy of the archive for example as healing place, as something that must never be a dead place, but probably because the archive in the deepest sense is a political act.
And also in relation to this question of Archive of Feelings which I've just given you a mini sort of summary of, for those of you who might not know about previous work of mine. I actually came to the Lesbian Herstory Archives late in the game of that project. And where I began was actually Act up and Activist Archives. So I also just want to flag that to mention the kind of generational betwixt in-between that I find myself in, that I think is part of my own particular social location vis-a-vis a kind of archival fever.
So from that tail-end of my project going back to the actual archive of LHA. Then things kind of spiraled out for me from there to taking a look at some of the rich array of archiving projects that have exploded in the last decade since I published that book.
We're in New York, let me talk about the New York places... but New York does remain a really key site of work for me. And what I just want to mention here is the way in which my work since Archive of Feelings in part has taken the form of what I want to call ethnographic fieldwork in the archives.
One of my old queer methods has been a form of ethnographic fieldwork that shuttles between theoritical critique and material practice. I've done this before with oral history in Archive of Feelings and with Memoir - In Depression - my last book that has used theoritical critique as a way of inhabiting a practice that is sometimes viewed with suspicion as essentialist or minor and seeing how the critique might produce alternative practice.
This method has also been a way of getting felt experience into the mix. Not just as qualitative data, but as a new form of affective knowledge. In my current project this entails an ethnography of the archive - a look at the material practices and social practices that are part of the process of collecting, classifying, researching and exhibiting; so as not to judge an archive simply by its institutional profile or through a static view of its collections.
If the archive is a practice not a thing, then it can be mobilized in multiple directions. For example what has happened to the Lesbian Herstory Archives practice is separatism over the years. How does it compare with the June Mazer Lesbian Archives in Los Angeles which has formed a partnership with UCLA to digitise their collections and make them more accessible. Shout out to UCLA there.
How do we respond to critiques of the fails(?)? Right Girl Archive is a contradiction at turns because according to some, the punk DIY ethic of Right Girl is at odds with institutional practices of a university library. In her study of fails in the archival turn in feminism, Kate Eichhorn who will be speaking later today, turns to the art interview(?) to provide a more nuanced sense of the tensions in the Right Girl collection.
(?)'s work on zines and people of colour is also a crucial corrective to over-generalising about zine culture, at once noting absences and creating forms of practice. Because I am interested in not just what kinds of archives we collect, but in what we do with them, I have been particularly interested in what Alex Juhasz has called Queer Archival Activism. And she also is someone who comes out of a deep history with AIDS activism.
An understanding of the archive as a place of activity where its not just about what's there, but about how it gets used. I've been especially interested in what artists do with archives and I would argue that their creative approach to practice constitutes a form of queer method. So this also is a way of acknowledging my appreciation for APA for having an artist in-residence program for Chitra and Mariam for taking that up in, I think, such an interesting way - not just though art projects and installations, but through knowledge production, like this conference.
I'm going to flip through some slides. These are different sites about which I could say more. I mentioned LA - been wanting to look there to what might seem like sites that people might automatically not think of. New York and San Fransisco, obviously kind of hallowed sites for queer community histories. Los Angeles has these partnerships between universities and community based archives that I've been particularly interested in tracking as part of the next wave of encounters between institutions and community based projects. So they've been one of my sites to look at.
I'm from Canada so again in an effort to be a little less US-centric I've been going home to see some of the many archival initiatives that are happening there under the auspices of different universities, again I'm not going to go into these in detail, even though in some ways that violates my own call for research method that would be attentive to the detailed case history. But you all are doing that, so I'm just kind of noting that as method.
So then I want to take us to some of the artist projects that I have been working with. And one of these... actually Jane