Creative Time Interview
Mark Beasley: Firstly I'd like to congratulate you on piecing together 33 years and more than 30 feet of materials from the Creative Time Archive. It's an incredible feat, one that not only speaks of the changing nature of artistic relations with the world at large but also of a changing city from the 70s through to the present. To begin I wondered what do you see as the primary job of an archive?
Your question about the primary “job” of an archive opens a very complicated discourse that my staff and I engage in all the time. Let me see if I can outline how our discussions go, more as a schematic of our thought process than a definitive answer to your question. First, what do we mean by an “archive”? We use the term in two different ways, though it has taken on new meanings in academia that I abhor. We use the term in its most exclusive way to mean the papers, photographs, documents, realia, media, and any other materials created by an organization as it goes about its business of being an organization. (The term for a single individual’s similar collection is “papers.”) We also use the term to mean a repository for collections of materials that help us document culture: think of the National Archives in DC.
Depending on which of the two types of archive you are referring to, the work of the archive can be different. The archive of an organization can happen as a coincidence rather than as a conscious effort. Some archives are simply the detritus of bills, phone messages, letters, faxes. They may or may not have any value to researchers, depending on a nexus of such aspects as time, monetary value, scholarly value, cultural value, political value, fetish value in a give culture at a given moment. Some of the early years of the Creative Time Archive have this feel—that they were almost accidentally preserved. But early on CT realized that, given the time-based nature of the art it was promoting, that it had to be very serious about documenting the works. After all, for most time-based and site-specific works the only thing that remains is the documentation. (Whether that documentation is its own work of art is a conundrum that’s beyond my topic here. My short answer is: it’s both.)
One of the things about the collection that is so interesting is the decisive way in which CT approached documenting itself. There was a thorough and on-going understanding of the effect of time-based or site-specific work on the art world and the role of documentation. It’s almost as though there’s a meta-narrative going on within the CT archive—an archive that’s creating itself as an archive, if you will.
As for the other kind of archive, the repository, they’re slippery institutions of power meant to accredit what culture wants to remember and, all to often, to tacitly obliterate those human experiences culture would just as soon forget. For, in the end all any historical objects—what we call primary resources—are, are the fossil remains of human experiences. We need an archeology to unearth their various meanings, always paying close attention to the provenance and the contextualizing time in which the objects functioned. At our best, archivists bring materials into the towers of power we work in without desecrating their historical context. Also at our best, we understand the accreditation power of archives and try to make sure the mainstream doesn’t’ overwhelm more transgressive voices. I think there is a common belief that archives exist to help us recreate the past, or at least, to verify historical facts. I’m skeptical about this. The best we can hope for is a dialogue with the past through the materials in archives if we take a genealogical approach to those materials.
Actually, we did have several specific ideas in mind as we approached the exhibition. For one, we knew we wanted it to be a collaborative project, following in the footsteps of CT’s promotion of collaborative art projects. Brent Phillips, Fales’ media specialist and processing archivist, Ann Butler, our senior archivist, and I worked very closely on the show. We did the selection, design, and installation together. We knew some things right away, such as the focus on black and white photography. There was something very 1970s about the black and white photos that we thought was appropriate to show. Also, we knew that the CT book had made extensive use of the color images, so we thought we’d show another side of the archive. We also knew that, while a strict chronological exhibition with images of every work would be useful, it might also be dull. Not all images in an archive are of equal interest. We decided to highlight the major projects, if there were good photographs. We also chose some lesser-known works simply because the photographs were fantastic as photographs beyond their importance as documentation. Finally, we wanted the show to have the feeling of a temporary installation—like looking at photographs in a photographer’s studio. So we scanned the original images and made reproductions to use in the gallery. It also saved us framing costs and allowed us to display more than 130 images.
There’s always that amazing moment when you’ve spent months thinking about a show, pulling items, writing labels, and planning layouts. Then, when it’s finally on the wall, that dream in your head becomes a reality. When we finished hanging the show we looked around and went, “Fuck! This really is fabulous!” We knew the materials were amazing. I’m delighted our vision for displaying them really works.
See more about the Creative Time’s 33 years of projects online @ www.creativetime.org/archive
See the exhibition WHAT REMAINS, DOCUMENTS FROM THE CREATIVE TIME ARCHIVE through December 14