The archivist brings work to visibility by seeing it, knowing it in her way, and connecting it to other video and viewers that will frame and hold it: giving context, making friends, building arguments, forming associations. Unruly archives need curators. Their holdings nothing but inconsequential detritus until loved and re-purposed.

I have proposed a video archive love fest. I want to take the dead work of the L.A. Woman’s Building (recently archived at the Getty’s Research Institute) and re-purpose it on-line. Bring it back to life. Make it relevant. Make if visible and re-usable. Put it on YouTube.

A proposed (pending funding) continuation of my work with the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time Project, I hope to move old tapes on-line linking this inspiring (and too invisible) retro-video-vision to the hyper-mediated now. I am eager to re-purpose YouTube as a productive archive of video art that addresses some of the contradictions engendered by this unique process archive. Women’s Building video was made and saved by countless (often anonymous) women who were mutually developing and enjoying a uniquely feminist theory and practice of video fundamentally informed by a consciousness raising that was itself conversant with contemporary art and primarily engaged with video at its inception. Throughout feminist art education at the Building (video) process was valued, and itself documented as well as being document, and all of this was meant to be made public (often through video), and then saved for history (as video), even, counter-intuitively, as it was also, most critically, marking something entirely internal and ephemeral.

In videos from the Building, there is a consistent and self-aware project that evocatively links video across this archive to both feminist process and preservation. I would continue this past project, by selecting videos from the archive, with the artists’ permissions put them on-line, and produce prompts, frameworks, and tools for their contemporary use. In so doing, I would be attempting to making this archive newly usable for present-day digital (video) processes, thus unmooring it from its obscure, frozen, and misunderstood place as feminist history, and encouraging it to better engage with our feminist present (which was once its under-theorized future), in the meantime allowing past work to remain relevant, become active, and embark in dialogue with the present.

I will speak on this Saturday at the ASA Conference.


I just returned from New York where I spent 48 hours visiting old haunts, seeing old friends, watching videos of my past ways, talking about the lost and now of AIDS and new queer cinema, and basically inhabiting the archive (in the forms of streets, videos, and theories) and considering the archive (in the form of slides, videos, and presentations) as I considered its impossibilities with others equally implicated. I walked familiar streets now peopled by people wearing costumes from Sex in the City, sat in a grad school classroom where I was once taught although now I am the teacher, there watching interviews of myself and friends testifying about the history of ACTUP, a place and movement we once lived, saw a movie, Savage Grace, by a dear friend of mine with whom I once made AIDS video and new queer cinema (all now old or at least middle-aged), and attended a conference which was largely about historicizing this very period of my (our) life: what we did, who we lost, what it might mean, what we must do. Coincidences, time circling in on itself, memories, witnessing, the dead, the alive, my scholarly output, ex-students, aging colleagues, it was too much. A city or a conference room can be an archive, holding fleeting and dusty whiffs of faces now wrinkled, ideas no longer fresh, items that can not be forgotten.

The AIDS/Art/Work conference was incredibly fine: each panel representing first rate contributions by varied participants: scholars, artists, activists. As hard as this might be to believe, I was never bored nor annoyed, just captured in a wound-up pressure-cooker of learning and introspection. We don’t talk about AIDS art and activism as we did, and we are rarely in community doing so. It was exhilirating and exhausting. Sad and empowering. Although all the talks were great, I was particularly inspired by the academic work of my ex-student (time turning in on itself), Julia Bryon Wilson, and colleague, David Roman, both of whom considered the AIDS archive in their papers. Julia wrote about the slide archives at Visual AIDS and David about the documents of a forgotten history of AIDS activism before ACT UP. They were both concerned about the lost and found of AIDS, the lasting and the lost, how you keep track, who remembers, how much work it is just to keep the archive up. Meanwhile, two of the presenting artists, Richard Sawdon-Smith and Derek Jackson, begged us to consider the place of the living AIDS body, and if a body should or can be part of an archive.

Then, the next day, I attended 5 hours of Deborah Levine’s marathon viewing of Sarah Schulman ahd Jim Hubbard’s ACTUP oral history, where I watched myself and two of my friends remember the past of AIDS and theorize the meanings of our activism. Deborah, Jim, and I, alive in the room in the present, remembering the past, as video archives of memorials haunted the walls, in the corner of my vision, myself, with fewer wrinkles, hardly any grey hair, and a gleam in my eye. Really, who has the strength? And yet, the impulse to control, own, or capture history (and bodies) is comendable if complicated, and as I have observed in my recent writing about Video Remains, the lasting quality of the video in comparison to the whimsical, narcisstic, and fanciful nature of memories (and bodies) seems key for this project.

PS: The Brentan Maart saga continued. It was pretty awesome when Marilyn Martin, the director of Iziko Museums of Cape Townhead of South Africa, responded to my talk with anger, grief, and puzzlement about the silencing of his censorship. Also, here’s a smart review of the conference and pictures!

At last the tours are through! While I found them increasingly tedious, they did prove a useful exercise in that I made some sense of the hundreds of videos my class produced (and from these tours I am going to teach Learning from Learning from YouTube in fall 2008, stay tuned), and I got to organize my thoughts thematically. So, I end with the failures of YouTube’s archive and how this structures its problems with community.

Importantly, the architecture and ownership of YouTube draw users by fueling their desire for community. While many come to the site to be seen and heard by others, to make friends, they are much better served by the world, or MySpace. For, the very tools and structures for community-building which are hallmarks of web 2.o (or a library or classroom)–those which link, gather, index, search, version, allow participation, commenting, and networking–are studiously refused on the site, even as it remains the poster-child of web 2.0. People go elsewhere for these functions, dragging their favorite YouTube videos with them to more hospitable platforms (with YouTube’s permission).

YouTube is a site to upload, store (and move off) videos. The very paucity of its other functions feeds its primary purpose: moving users’ eyeballs aimlessly and without direction, scheme, or map, across its unparalleled archive of moving images. YouTube is a mess: videos are hard to find, easy to misname, and quick to lose. While it’s users would certainly be aided by a good archivist, the site signals to us in its conscientious failings that it is not a place to hunker down or hang out with others, not a place within which to seriously research or study, not a place for anything but solo-play. Enjoy!