Lesbian Archives Roundtable
Duration: 01:11:01; Aspect Ratio: 1.818:1; Hue: 50.715; Saturation: 0.047; Lightness: 0.255; Volume: 0.132; Cuts per Minute: 0.070
Ellen Gruber Garvey is the author of Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance
(Oxford UP, 2013), which examines the archives which ordinary newspaper
readers created by clipping items for their scrapbooks. These include
scrapbooks made by African Americans and by women's rights activists
that spoke back to the media and left us a record of their reading.
Lesbians such as the photographer Alice Austen left records of their
reading and lives in this way, while other lesbian scrapbooks have
disappeared. Scrapbooks are a democratic archive, but their access to
bricks and mortar archives has not been evenly distributed.
Garvey's first book was The Adman in the Parlor: Magazines and the Gendering of Consumer Culture
(Oxford UP, 1996), winner of the Society for the History of Authorship,
Reading, and Publishing's award for the best book on book history. She
has written extensively on women editing periodicals, advertising of
books, what elements of magazines libraries fail to archive, and other
aspects of print culture. She is a Professor of English at New Jersey
City University, where she also edits Transformations: The Journal of Inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy.
Lisa Merrill's past and current work relies on archives of
correspondence to uncover 19th century lesbian friendship and erotic
circles. Her study of 19th-century lesbian actress and cultural icon Charlotte Cushman, When Romeo Was a Woman: Charlotte Cushman and Her Circle of Female Spectators
(University of Michigan Press), based on 20,000 items in the Cushman
archive of the Library of Congress, was awarded the Joe A. Callaway
Prize for Best Book in Theatre. Although Cushman’s most passionate
correspondence used pet names for her lovers and eschewed salutations,
Merrill was able to identify Cushman’s respondents through the tone and
voice she used with each. She is currently working on two new book
projects that draw upon her ongoing archival research. She is editing Touching the Text: The Erotics of Archival Research,
an anthology that stages a dialogue between those who are drawn to the
pleasures of archival research and their various subjects. Performing Race and Reading Antebellum American Bodies
examines unpublished diaries and correspondence of abolitionists and
fugitive slaves in archives in Britain and Ireland, and finds letters of
white abolitionists who condemning the public appearances of former
enslaved Americans as too “theatrical.” The archive is thus the site of
revelations of tensions between public and private representations of
race. Merrill is Professor in the Department of Rhetoric at Hofstra
Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz is an archivist at the Lesbian Herstory Archives
(LHA), a faculty librarian at the Graduate Center of the City
University New York, and co-producer of Rivers of Honey a Cabaret
highlighting the art of women of color. Her work at LHA and her
contribution to the roundtable conversation will focus on working
specifically with black lesbian representation in lesbian archival
herstory. In 2010, for the CLAGS sponsored Lesbian Lives in the '70s
Conference, she created the since nationally distributed and
award-winning Zine, Black Lesbians in the '70s and Before : An At-Home Tour at the Lesbian Hersory Archives.
Alongside the Zine as an archival tool, she will also draw upon her
experience with researchers and women interested in their own archiving,
including the Salsa Soul Sisters interview on Audre Lorde, the Audre
Lorde/Adrienne Rich marathon reading, and events being planned on black
lesbians. Prior to CUNY, Shawn worked as Archive Coordinator at
StoryCorps, a digital oral history storytelling project. She holds a BS
in Queer Women's Studies from CUNY, an MLS from Queens College, and is
pursuing an MFA in Fiction at Queens College.
Ellen, Lisa, and Shawn(ta) will be joined by Rachel Corbman, Flavia Rando and Margaret Galvan for the roundtable.
Most archives that collect and conserve queer and GLBT content still function according to neoliberal logic. They comply with common law that regulates and legitimates the donated or purchased materials’ chain of ownership, conservation, and display. But the human body acting as archive exceeds and contests the notion of an archive as a site in which capital accumulates to later evidence or support a memory claim. As organic matter impacted by culture, the body acting as an archive is “queer” in that its composition changes as it acts to conserve and display. What changes – in the body or in the performances it agrees to conserve-- cannot be predicted, as over time the actions that the body conserves continue to affect it, and the particularity of that body as an archive transforms the actions it incorporates. Classification, a critical function of archiving, no longer separates, for the archivist whose body also acts as an archive cannot help but relinquish control over how works intermingle in and with the body. In this paradigm, performances are made anew as they relocate and disperse throughout the organism. Although the archivist has some degree of control over works she stores, consciously curating what she desires to absorb and display, the archivist’s agency remains limited for she cannot fully regulate how and where performance locates itself in the body or its long-term effects.
The body performing as archive cannot possess but instead becomes possessed, affected and remade by the performances of others. Against the juridical contract that accompanies a donation to an archive, when a body becomes archivist and archive of performance, it transforms performance into the evidence of the uncertain exchange that transpires between donor and archivist and other donations. Conversely, the body as an archive of performance undermines the institutional stability of the archive for it can only be constituted if performance is expended.
This panel assesses Julie Tolentino’s proposition, put forward in her ongoing archiving project “The Sky Remains the Same”, that the human body is not merely a transmitter of repertoires. Instead we propose to examine Tolentino’s work as a technology that demonstrates and reconfigures social and political values as well as the archive’s purpose. What changes when bodies are considered archives capable of recording, storing, indexing, and redistributing others’ performances? The New Museum’s recent show “Performance Archiving Performance”, which included “The Sky Remains the Same” alongside other artist-driven performance archiving projects, demonstrated that this paradigm might offer an alternative to what can be understood as or known about an archival event. In the show Tolentino violated the notion of conservation as retention, energetically spending what she was charged to retain in order to felicitously complete her task of conservation. This roundtable discussion reflects upon the proposition in “The Sky Remains The Same” that the human body performing as archive and archivist of other’s performances might in fact offer a radical antidote to the present epidemic of archive fever. How might an archive be a metaphor for other forms of social organization? Can the receipt and display of the archive’s materiality and its engagement with performance as its content mimic practices of queer political relations also not predicated on a similarity of exchange or juridical possession? What are the consequences if an archive becomes legible only through expending another’s performance and by utilizing gifting and dissipation as techniques of conservation?