|Business Meeting Topics||General Fembot Topics|
|Business Meeting Topics||General Fembot Topics|
Collect Yourself: Data Storage Centers as the Archive’s Underbelly
As the quintessential personal digital archive, Facebook no longer requires an introduction; its user-base is currently estimated at one billion active monthly profiles, give or take a few fake accounts. On the front end, it’s the epitome of the user-generated content platform and of the postmodern living archive. Its underbelly, however, remains much less explored and theorized (Miller, 2006; Bennet 2010). Academic research on Facebook has instead addressed: urgent policy, privacy, and surveillance concerns (Cohen 2008; Shepherd 2012); ownership of user-generated content and its commodification through “big data” (boyd and Crawford 2011); and identity and user behaviour analyses (Marshall 2012), to offer a few examples in a growing body of literature dedicated to Facebook. Within the scholarship, as within journalism and blogging, Facebook’s growth is rarely discussed in terms of the very machines used to manage perpetual user requests: the servers. Even Wikipedia fails to make mention of the site’s data centers.
In relation to Facebook’s material management of personal archive data, several questions remain: What kinds of servers are required to host such large amounts of ‘free’ information, offering up data so rapidly, across so many platforms? How does Facebook’s advertising strategy inform how power is pulled from the grid? How do these servers function? How are they powered? How many are there? Where are they located? Taken together, these pragmatic questions inform an important theoretical intervention: these dislocated servers–existing in “enterprise zones” and arctic hideaways–not only effectively blind us to the potential environmental costs# of our everyday obsession with self-archiving, but also demand a serious revision of the preservation ideals that underpin the archive.
In my presentation, I will offer up a series of provocations about data storage centers, as the archive’s underbelly, with the intent of reconnecting Facebook to the bodies and machines that enable it, and the ideals that inform it.
** working on this**
Below is a very rough draft of my talk at Console-ing Passions 2012. Ideas in this presentation need a lot of flushing out, but here it is…
No More Potlucks: Media Archeology as Feminist Archival Intervention
This presentation focuses on the archival trajectory of Canadian queer feminist DIY journal of
arts, nomorepotlucks.org. Specifically, it looks at the significance of the project’s digital traces
for speaking to the artist, activist, and academic communities it has represented over the course
of the last eight years.
Nomorepotlucks.org was launched in 2003 and served as a virtual posting board for queer
feminist events in Montreal (Canada). At the time, it was a hand-coded static html website,
where new events replaced past ones, showcasing only the current as a means to connect
people to events in the city. The posting board was decidedly local. In 2005 the site shifted to its
first content management system (CMS) but retained much of the same purpose. However, as a
CMS, past events were ‘archived’ and remained on the site as new events were added. In 2009,
nomorepotlucks.org was revamped conceptually and technologically to become an online and
print-on-demand journal of arts and politics, showcasing a new issue every 2 months. In those
years it shifted from open source CMS, Drupal to WordPress, primarily as a growing concern for
the project’s preservation.
As the cofounder of the journal and as the web developer and technician for the project, I
explain in detail the archival trajectory of the project and its political implications. In particular, I
attempt to tease out the ways in which archival strategies are always in part a product of the
politics of the social movement they emerge from.As a creative feminist intervention, I invite reflection on the kind of archival analysis that invariably creates for the archive as much as it draws (archaeologically) from it. This
presentation therefore revolves around the notion of archival intervention as creative
contribution, and attempts to give concrete examples of media archaeology, as a queer feminist
methodology and tactic (Cvetkovich 2002; Ketelaar 2002; Takahashi 2007; Chun 2008; Parikka
My talk will be in two parts – one part which I will read to you and one part as a kind of media archaeology demo.
What I hope to demonstrate (if not reiterate) in this short presentation is that archival theory is not a corpus reserved merely for the day-to-day practicalities of archivists. Rather, I want to underline how it is also deeply implicated in the processes of media researchers, scholars, activist, artists, and practitioners: those who make use of the archives, intervene from within, and critically engage in its possibilities and limitations. This relationship — between use, intervention, engagement, and the archive — becomes central to questioning the role of the archive as source, as long intimated by those dealing most closely with issues of ownership, exile, and representation in relation to archival theory. Such issues of power may resonate, but too often get disconnected from larger technological discourses.
What I propose here is that as a result of theorizing the archive in this way—adjoining political voices with technological practicalities—we can move toward an increasingly self-reflexive approach to archiving that accounts for the documentation of research processes, and deliverables, as not only integral to methodology, but as elemental to rigorous scholarly output and critical production practices. Within this revised and revived framework, the archive has the potential to shift conceptually, from repository, place, database, and source, to trajectory, performance, or what Wendy Chun calls the enduring ephemeral, where “raw and abstracted material created as part of research processes and which may be used again as the input to further research – carries with it the burden of capturing and preserving not only the data itself, but information about the methods by which it was produced”. Determining the bounds of the archive — as enacted, embodied or performed — rather than solely conceived as place, space, or repository — is inextricably linked to the possible knowledges produced about it, and the legitimacy of voices, histories, politics, and testimonies it enables. It is also, however, about what falls out and fails, and what these perceived failures reveal about a researcher’s subject-position vis-à-vis the archive. These are preoccupations particularly well addressed, through a media archaeology framework – even and especially as media archaeology remains open to interpretation–; which is, according to Jussi Parikka: “much more than paying theoretical attention to the intensive relations between new and old media, mediated through concrete and conceptual archives; increasingly, media archaeology is a method for doing media design and art.” This attention to ‘doing’ media and design is particularly important for the point I’m trying to make through nomorepotlucks.org, an example that I hope will demonstrate that the archive can be an ongoing and creative endeavour circulating through the queer networks that activate and maintain it.
By way of nomorepotlucks and various design projects I am involved in, I have become interested in the movement and mutations of digital culture. I’m less interested in dichotomies of materiality and immateriality, or in the distinctions between traditional physical repository and database, which are often – still – the more common points of contrast in relation to the archive’s potential. Instead, my interest is focused on different modalities of access, and the possible reworkings of the politics of ownership of the archive: to occupy the archive, and to inhabit it instead.
If the archive prioritizes the future, it not only anchors but also justifies its position as mediator and safeguard, and with this, the notion that human interaction with artefacts run many risks that are counter to the preservation of an original and arrested moment – through tampering, decay, errors and so on. Preservation, to this end, has meant a necessary distance between precious originals, for the sake of long-term access; — however it is rarely made explicit when this end point is expected to be, and for whom this later access is reserved.
Several examples show the ways in which preservation has meant inaccessibility, and has been justified through a rhetoric of future potential that is inherently greater than what a present connection can seemingly ever afford.
The Lascaux caves in southwestern France, which are estimated to house vast murals of drawings that are more than 17 000 years old are now being taken over by mold because of preservation efforts that try to control the humidity of the caves. The Lascaux caves have been closed to the public since 1963. A website allows viewers a virtual tour, and there exists a replica of two of the caves that people can visit, located about 200 meters away from the original caves.
Similarly, the Bettmann Archive is a collection of 19 million or so photographs and images owned by Corbis (Bill Gates) since the mid 1990s. Corbis moved the archive into the Iron Mountain National Underground Storage Facility, located 70 m/200 feet below ground in western Pennsylvania, in a space deemed to be at optimal temperature for long-term storage. Only images considered to have commercial resale value are digitized and made public (less than 2 percent of the collection). The rest remains underground under lock and key.
These are just two examples but they are sufficient to at least highlight the paradox we’ve come to largely accept — that preservation privileges so called long-term historical value, which must by definition be out of the reach of the present. While long term preservation is important in many cases, it is largely a framework that relies on the perceived scarcity of material and often singular objects, and as such, may not be fully equipped to account for digital culture – for which mutation, viral proliferation and ephemerality should arguably be informing the framework.
I think this becomes an opportunity to do archival work differently, in line with postcolonial feminists politics that counter the archive’s proposed linearity and quest for a singular truth. As Anjali Arondekar puts it, questioning the archive as source still “coheres around a temporally ordered seduction of access, which stretches from the evidentiary promise of the past into the narrative possibilities of the future” (2005, 5). To think of the archive as a creative act, then, is to consider means by which to assemble stories, as a mode of ‘doing’ that records its own performance. And, as Ann Laura Stoler puts it, where fragments have the potential to speak differently depending on their configuration. This is the kind of archival potential we have tried to activate through nomopotlucks.org – a Canadian journal of arts and politics, as portraits of proclivities. In short, I’m proposing that a publication – and all its offshoots (especially its intangible ephemeral offshoots) constitute an archive that privileges mutations through circulation, and situates the communities through which the project circulates as its inhabitants.
Articles and arts works from nomorepotlucks are reprinted in other journals, in course packs, republished or pulled from personal blogs, academic papers or larger art projects, tweeted and retweeted, favorited, and posted on a Facebook wall, copied and pasted in part or in full into new venues for dissemination and so on — which together constitute the inhabited archive, where movement through social media and personal networks preserve both the project’s momentum and identity.
As the cofounder of nomorepotlucks.org, and as the person who does the technical and design work for the journal, I’m — in many ways — in a privilege position to also “archive” it, because a lot about what makes technology interesting for me, archivally anyway, is in the politics that shape access. But the flipside is that I might be too close to the material to even be able to assess the significance of its archive. To archive is always in some ways to assume value. Despite this ambivalence, my goal is to initiate a conversation about what a media archaeology approach might uncover for nomorepotlucks, and in so doing, tease out the ways that archival strategies are always, in part, a product the politics of the social movements from which they emerge, but also of individuals within a movement who are specifically “located.” Positioning oneself within the archive – as a feminist tactic in itself — brings awareness to how the process of archiving invariably creates for the archive as much as it draws (archaeologically) from it. And I’m obviously not the first person to make that point (but I’m skipping over the Derrida and Foucault references today).
So, if you have a laptop or mobile device, type in: “nomorepotlucks.org” – or look up and follow along on the screen, and I’m going to circulate a print copy of the journal as well, so you can see what I’m talking about. I’m also — in thinking about the panel as “opening the archive” going to pass around a USB key with an almost complete collection of the articles, including the latest issue, but not including the video or audio files.
I’m doing this so that we can later talk about what this kind of archive does, what its limits are, how its content circulate, or fail to, and what role the network (or community) plays in the performance of preservation and access at various levels. We can also include in that conversation issues of access, copyright and creative commons licensing—each ideals of ownership–which is the reason some of the audio and video doesn’t circulate as freely as text.
I will be showcasing early iterations of the site, coded in html in 2003, via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. For the second iteration, created using CMS Textpattern, I will navigate the site by way of backs up copies made onto CDs in 2004 and 2005. Following this, the site shifted to CMS Drupal, which is no longer available online, but for which I’ve exported the database for perusal (in PDF, SQL and XML versions). But first, I will show the current version, featuring issue # 22: Record. If asked what Nomorepotlucks is, most likely the latest iteration of the project speaks loudest.
3 main takeaways from this presentation, up for discussion:
1- media archaeology allows for a recognition of the archive as a process that necessitates exposing one’s methods for research, recovery, and excavation.
2- the idea that the archive becomes an act of creation – it is part of the creative process and part of the design thinking and doing – rather than an afterthought, or concern for the future.
3- preservation can be positioned as a kind of archival awareness that is equivalent to inhabitation, rather than a statement about ownership and control over culture, or of and over time, and/or of proprietary archival spaces. Inhabitation is about an embodied notion of preservation – which literally means “to be present in” and to occupy.
Disclaimer – below is a pretty rough draft of my Archive as Dumpster paper, presented May 30th at CCA 2012, Waterloo. Because I was reading this paper, I don’t have the proper referencing – but contact me if you want ’em!
The Archive as Dumpster
In Le goût de l’archive, Arlette Farge, explains that “the archival operation first of all consists of separating the documents. The question is to know what to keep and what to abandon.” The decision of what to keep, which is partially accomplished through acquisition, as a first level filter, and appraisal, as a second filter, have become core archival functions because they enact value by sorting out what is worth keeping based first and foremost on perceived long-term historical potential. Undoubtedly, in traditional archives, these decisions are necessary given the limited space of the physical repository, as well as the costs of conservation—to protect artefacts against rapid deterioration based on environmental, human, and technological factors.
As such, despite decades of archival theory upon which to build, the archive is made increasingly difficult to critically engage with on common grounds—between scholars, activists, archivists, programmers, artists, etc—given that its definition now includes, as layers, the physical repository, the web, the internet archive, the database—what Appadurai might define as an anthropological or living archive—from .tar and .zip file extensions, to the so-called dump file. The dump file, also known as the “core dump” or “memory dump,” has become computer jargon to indicate the storing of a large amount of raw data for future examination. The online archive, the archive as dump, or as I prefer, dumpster, calls into attention not just the media that host and are created to preserve its contents, but also the blurry connotations of digital value. Through Vibrant Matters, Jane Bennet argues that:
There is definitely something afoot, something about everyday (euro-american) life that is warning us to pay more attention to what we’re doing. There is the call from our garbage: our private and public spaces — houses, apartments, streets, landfills, waterways — are filling up with junk, with vast quantities of disposables, plastic artifacts, old tv’s and devices, clothes, bags, papers, bottles, bottles, bottles.
It’s no stretch, then, to also extend Bennet’s insights to practices of digital hoarding—both personal and those facilitated by technology, which together raise questions of pollution, contamination, and digital detritus, generally subsumed under the idea of the ‘viral’ proliferation of data.
The archive, then, when configured as computerized database and repository, also relies on storage space for containing as well as organizing its contents. However, while the capacity of media storage has increased rapidly and exponentially; from the punch card to analogue to digital to solid state to cloud ‘space,’ the capacity and manner of storage is now largely understood to be ever-expandable, to the point where many argue that the online archive inherently solves the issue of appraisal (and therefore, value) by allowing that no digital artefact be thrown away, discarded, or deleted.
The prevailing idea has been in the possibility (and excitement) of collecting ‘everything’—with little attention directed toward the traditional assessments of long-term value—and this is as true for organised initiatives such as the IWM, as it is for personal collections growing through social media. Unlike the conventional archive where storage limitations impact archival processes, however, the rubric of the online archive has been totalizing. As counterpoint, Sven Spieker suggests that, “Archives are less concerned with memory than with the necessity to discard, erase, eliminate.” Archival selection is always already an ongoing process, shaped by the technologies in place that facilitate storage first, and access to content second. However, due to the lack of triage online—a ranking of priorities—the web, as a whole, bypasses the archivist’s appraisal, which then usurps traditional notions of value that derive from a familiar or traditional workflow: fixity, provenance, scarcity, authenticity and integrity are no longer valid base concepts. Put simply, archival theory, its workflow, and its politics are interconnected—and without one, nothing and everything may be of value, as value—regardless of its shifting definition and scope—is the underlying motivation for archival preservation.
The idea of digital value has been taken on by scholarly practitioners such as the Digital Methods Initiative, in Amsterdam, who, among other projects, created the website deletefrominternet.com, inviting people to nominate websites “unworthy of the Internet” for deletion, to help “clean up the Web”. Through its anti-social bookmarking service, the project attempts a discursive democratization of appraisal, where the inherent and predictable failure to achieve this goal becomes in itself their most important commentary about web culture.
Another project in this vein, by Les liens invisibles, is the online Musée des ordures which addresses the “the daily overproduction of user generated content and the continuous political solicitation to which we are subjected,” for which they deem it has become “ever more difficult to make sense of the sheer number of objects circulating on the internet” (http://www.ordure.org ). This project has been more difficult to track– they were banned from one of the social networks they were using as both case and tool—their Twitter account has been suspended. They explain their project as such:
Ordure is an ever present shadow signifying to all that is deemed unworthy. Unwanted, discarded debris induces choking urbanisations, smearing land and urban scapes alike. It thrives in the sway of the brutalising exploitation of natural materials and processes usually dealt with elsewhere, (where labour markets are cheap). The interchange is filled with abrasions, natural disasters, and human sacrifices. The world as a rubbish dump. Aesthetics profits from such profligacy.
Similarly, but with a more pragmatic end goal than showcasing web ‘ordure’ through social media, American programmer, Justin Blinder, created Dumpster Drive as a means for Web users to recycle and repurpose each other’s digital files. Because the “drag-drop-delete process of deleting data from our computers prevents them from ever reaching others,” the project website explains, “Dumpster Drive makes your trash social within the context of your desktop, allowing you to dumpster dive through the discarded files of others.
Needless to say these projects remain more tongue-in-cheek comments on the circulation of digital ephemera, but the questions they raise remain extremely pertinent and bring us back the materiality of our bodies and the environments in which they live.
New Media scholar Erik Kluitenberg argues that collection of ephemera online becomes a challenge to the power of the system of archiving that determines the structure and discourse of historical worthiness. As he explains, distinguishing what has value (historical, economic) from that which can be discarded, more often than not shows the extent of what is not valued: “Ephemera are considered noise, irrelevant, and as a result, a large aspect of living culture is often excluded” from traditional repositories. But as Katharine Mieszkowski (2001) points out in a Salon article about ‘dumpster diving’ the web: “it’s just such banal ephemera that counts, if you have enough of it.” For social media sites, and large-scale collaboration projects, the banal comes to constitute an important slice of web culture, the kind of daily ephemera largely bypassed by traditional archival collections precisely because of its ‘junky’ quality. As Mieszkowski also suggests, value is a matter of collection itself, and of the network or relationship between items, in a collection. This is a point also reinforced by Richard J. Cox in his exploration of personal archives generated of the web, and their growing importance in society’s conception around digital historical value. Cox suggests that “We are on the cusp of seeing a new kind of archival future, and whether this is good or bad depends on how well archivists equip citizen archivists.” Presumably, the value of the personal archive online also requires individuals to be archivist of their own lives, and hence, implies recognition of one’s worth and historical importance, within and beyond a collective. It also, to some extent, implies that the archive is built into the collective, and that such connectivity builds memories at least as much as it preserves them.
The online archive offers a multiple modes for self-appraisal and exclusion, based on an understanding of the value of the archive. However, despite the established, yet ever evolving, concepts that have founded archival value, the online realm, free of such referents, is without clear determinants of importance, worth, or usefulness. Not because content is without value, but because we (still) do not know how to collectively assign value to content online outside of a scarcity model, nor how to best organize large amounts of data within a framework that is about more than the moment of search (and hence antithetical to long term visions.) This is made most evident by the large scale ‘dumping’ of early web histories by UGC sites, such as GeoCities, Friendster, and more recently Google Video and other services, in contrast to the seemingly unassailable position of Google as a search engine, or Facebook as social media network, today.
Given the sheer amount of ephemera online, does archival value only come into play when content risks being deleted? Is archival value online an afterthought, in effect on a case-by-case basis, as a means of dealing with loss, as is it happening? Are these important questions any longer, if, as Brewster Khale (founder of the IWM) and others assert, there is no need to throw anything away? If we have endless space for storage, does this assume we have endless time archived as well?
If the average ‘life’ of a website is of (only) one hundred days, as David Womack reports, how can an archive online be seriously conceived? As media scholar Geert Lovink asks, will the elites establish safeguarded ‘islands in the Net’ where essential knowledge is stored, leaving the wired billions floating in their own data trash?” With the rapid development of web technologies, requiring constant upgrades for content management systems, and constant refreshing of content to keep social systems vibrant, and formats valid, how do networks themselves age in the living archive? Is the web archive, at least in part, also an archive if its fissures, a trail of broken links and faulty links and 404 errors, reveal the network’s ‘wear and tear’? Finally, as a large unsorted store, is the online archive, without assessment of its content, communities, and cultures of use, allegorical to the dumpster?
Pulled in part from:
Hogan, Mél (2012) Crashing the Archive: A Research-Creation Intervention into the SAW Video Mediatheque. Research-Creation Doctorate. Concordia University.
Canadian Association of Cultural Studies (CACS)/
L’Association canadienne des études culturelles (ACÉC)
McGill University, Montreal | Nov. 4-6, 2011
Building upon Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s concept of the ‘enduring ephemeral,’ (2008) and Lev Manovich’s ‘anti-narrative logic of the Web’ (2001) this presentation outlines the possibilities for time travel through the interface of the world’s largestonline database, the Internet Archive Wayback Machine (IWM). Together, these concepts form the necessary paradox for engaging theoretically, as well as in practical terms, with the web as archive and the archive of the web. IWM founder, Brewster Kahle claims, archival research online demands that we embrace its dualistic nature: “Whatever the precise figure, and whatever its rate of change, change itself is paradoxically consistent feature of the World Wide Web.” As the “archive of the internet” the IWM is a machine comprised of numerous robots and servers steadily “archiving” web pages by crawling the internet and taking snap shots of html content. As a recursive and regenerative process in which the archive archives itself, the IWM functions to counter fears of ‘digital decay’ (Bruce Sterling) resulting in a ‘digital dark age’ (Danny Hillis) that would—as the story goes—prevent learning from the past for a better future. The IWM is also about the internet’s capacity to trigger memory and reside within ever expanding digital storage. Like memory, the IWM is imperfect insofar as it is incomplete and elusive; it preserves only a ‘skeleton’ of a page, hyperlinks are often broken and images replaced by a broken icons, and for the most part, without cached media or dynamic database. As such, the memory of the internet can be framed as trails of versions and updates, repeated and regenerated, “creating a nonsimultaneous new that confounds the chronological time they also enable” (Chun 2008). This presentation therefore attempts to track the journey and the potential of time travel within the non-linear database, bringing to the forefront a conceptual ‘mobile archive’ as means of addressing issues of location in time that include the concurrent and iterative that digital flows inspire.
Saturday Nov. 5
Panel 1 9:30-11:15
A) Cultural and Aesthetic Practice
Mobility, art, and eco-criticism
Chair: Jill Didur, Concordia University
Owen Chapman, Concordia University “Audio-Mobile: Understanding Eco-territories through Mobile Technologies”
Mél Hogan, Concordia University “Mobile Archive”
Andrew Bieler, York University “Water, Art, Cityscape: in medias res”
Fenn Stewart, York University “’and all the Horrid graces of the Wilderness itself’: Nature Poetry in the Context of Canadian De/Colonization”
Feminist Publishing in the Digital Age
I’m planning to talk about nomorepotlucks, a Canadian online and print-on-demand queer/feminist publication. My plan is to focus on some of the practicalities of launching, maintaining and updating a free online/pod journal, do a kind of show&tell, and cover some of the following points:
• open source content management systems – pros and cons of drupal vs. other cms
• print layout – print on demand (lulu)
• epublications – where the tech is at (and what’s missing)
• communication and collaboration tools (free) (dropbox, highrise, google docs, etc)
• promo tools – twitter, facebook, email
• fundraising – offline and online
• free labour – is it unfeminist?
• funding – at what cost?
• communities and networks – the powers of
• stats – who, how many, what’s of interest and what it means
Some threads online about the project:
Friday 3:00-5:00 PM
Session 1/Plenary: Peer Review as Feminist Practice – Carol Stabile, Kim Sawchuk of Concordia University, and Radhika Gajjala of Bowling Green State University (Phoebe Bronstein, chair)
Saturday 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Session 2: Multi-modal publishing – Karen Estlund, Staci Tucker, and Mél Hogan of Concordia University and No More Potlucks (Karen Estlund, chair)
12:00 PM – 1:00 PM Lunch
1:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Session 3: Feminist pedagogy and teaching with new media – Bryce Peake, Alisa Freedman, and Jacquie Wallace (of Concordia University)
3:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Session 4: Developing an Online Presence & Portfolio – Kelli Matthews, Mara Williams, and TBA
As stated by jake moore of the feminist new media project Matricules, “archive” is both noun and verb. As a noun, the archive is a physical repository, where materials are stored for preservation and for perusal—and reference point, where records are consulted. As a verb, the archive functions as a social history-building project, and facilitates storytelling. The feminist archive, as imagined by jake moore, ceases to exist without being in process: acquiring documents, being accessed and utilized, articulated and critiqued. In essence, the archive ceases to be when it is no longer engaged in creating, contesting, and remixing stories. Online, this seems to be made all the more possible by the largely participatory culture of the web, and the wide array of tools and applications made freely available. The online archive relies on users to participate in its ongoing development: as programmers, curators, fans, hackers, editors, writers, organisers, commenters, designers, contributors, readers, etc., but also for the preservation of the projects themselves. Participation in a project online often means sustaining it: by generating copies, conversations, and activating a culture and community around a shared reference point, from which a project can be both grounded and expanded.
However, it needs to be said that much of what constitutes the online archive is also a challenge to established archival modalities: fixity, provenance, scarcity, and authenticity, for example, are largely undone, as are conceptions of time and place as markers of identity. Thinking of archiving in an increasingly digital and networked environment has therefor meant considering the impact of easy duplication and wide-scale distribution, but also the inherently ephemeral and volatile nature of memory. As such, the tension between the archive’s promise and its threat largely shapes the discourses of preservation and access online, but its politics remain determined in no small part by the participants and communities from which specific online initiatives emerge.
Using the example of nomorepotlucks.org (NMP), our intention is to explore how the politics of a social movement—queer, GLBT, feminist—are reflected in a movement’s archival strategies online, though by no means always advertently. With this in mind, we attempt to address how NMP positions itself politically through its strategies for sustenance—not so much to come up with a definitive stance about who and what NMP is, or how it can or will be read historically, but rather to demonstrate the correlation between self-preservation and politics, or, in better words, to identify the link between NMP and the activist potential of the online archive.
The title of this presentation Taking the Archives Down With Us is an homage to a statement made in 1979, by Pat Leslie, founder of the Canadian Women’s Movement Archive or CWMA. In response to the threat of not being able to sustain the archive, Leslie pleads: QUOTE
Specifically lesbian Herstory will be forever buried. What little exists now consists of hopeful conjuncture. It is the fear of oppression and the shyness of self-expression which makes that invisible veil so heavy. If need be, the Women’s Movement Archives would go underground, file by file, to protect records of the growing movement. Access to everything donated by lesbians is strictly limited. ENDQUOTE
The CWMA did not go underground, however, it was transferred to the Morisset Library at the University of Ottawa, deemed by the group to be the most secure, stable and politically aligned repository, where it has resided since 1992. However, this transition to a university, a process which is significantly under-documented, leaves much to ponder considering the founder’s plea to keep the archives within the community of women activists. In 1979, Leslie also wrote: QUOTE
To ask the patriarchy to preserve our lives for us is a suicidal act. We do not need to be researched by patriarchal/academic institutions; we do not need to be financially supported by governments, capitalist or otherwise. [What] we do need is a link to future generations of feminists and lesbians who will have access to our lives. ENDQUOTE
Researching lesbian history, therefore, means tracking the history of the archive itself. Lesbian-feminist critiques of the archive ask us to consider not only the relationship of women to the archive, as repository and process, but also the problematic nature of defining and delimiting the lesbian community. Who counts as a historian, archivist, and subject of history, and how is history created. How do citizenship, nationality, race and ethnicity further complicate the lesbian/queer archive. In outlining a Canadian context for NMP, we attempt to delimit the current boundaries of the lesbian archive and propose that a perspective positioned within queer (as verb, rather than noun) and feminist theory is of great value when situating the practices of web culture within a larger archival discourse. The question of where lesbian or queer histories belongs, as we explore in this short presentation, is revisited in and through queer community new media appropriation, and their preservation.
About NMP (M-C)
Before addressing some of the points that Mél just raised with examples of NMP’s organization and process, let me first tell you a bit about NMP.
Launched on January 1, 2009, www.nomorepotlucks.org (NMP) is the first and only independent web-based and print-on-demand journal of arts and politics in Canada. Since its inception, the strong feminist underpinnings and visibly queer ethics of the journal have been made evident; however with no explicit mandate, NMP becomes an interesting site of inquiry into perceived ideas and ideals of feminist-queer media today.
NMP initially emerged in part from our longstanding friendship but also from our volunteer experience with the Dykes on Mykes (DoMs) Radio show at CKUT in Montreal and our collaboration with the show’s host Dayna McLeod.
Now let’s consider some of the ways that the politics of the GLBT/queer and feminist movement are reflected in, and influence our strategies for sustenance and preservation. The first point I’ll touch on is the participation of the GLBT/queer/feminist community in the creation and development of NMP. For the sake of brevity, I will provide most these examples in point form but please feel free to ask for clarity in the following Q&A.
1. Participation of the queer/GLBT community in NMP
The community and network that we have been able to develop through DoMs and NMP began locally in Montreal and has since expanded to include the queer/LGBT and feminist community across Canada. A great example of our involvement in these communities is this conference – there are roughly a dozen people here who have been on DoMs, another dozen who have contributed to NMP, and countless others that we have been in touch with about future contributions. (We also have postcards you can fill out to indicate what you’d like to contribute).
Like most feminist/queer projects we follow a “by and for” approach – we don’t ever attempt to speak on behalf of anyone or for everyone. With so much participation from volunteers, we try to reflect the community and we let the community’s ideas drive us and push our development.
2. The second point I want to consider is: Funding
When it comes to issues of sustenance and preservation funding is of course an important issue. In our introduction, Mél quoted Leslie’s reference to the DIY and independent nature of feminist and queer communities, she stated: “we do not need to be financially supported by governments, capitalist or otherwise.” While we do not necessarily subscribe to this, we have found that having no funding is hugely tied to independence—the kind of independence we want as a journal:
As Mél said in our introduction, much of what constitutes the online archive is also a challenge to established archival modalities, including: fixity, provenance, scarcity, and authenticity. In stark contrast to Leslie’s idea of “going underground”, NMP – as an example of an online feminist archive – is doing quite the opposite.
Rather than fixity and provenance our choice of technology allows for unlimited revisions to both the web and print issues of NMP – thereby challenging the idea of an “original copy”. And instead of scarcity and authenticity, we prioritize accessibility and wide distribution.
3. The third point I’ll consider here is Accessibility by means of Technology
I’ll stop here, but this should give you an idea of how NMP functions, and how it demands a revisiting of the lesbian archive as something coveted and protected.
Our title harkens back to feminist lesbian pleas of the late 1970s, when freestanding archives of the women’s movement and lesbian community were first imagined. While this lesson has informed much of the lesbian media activism in which Nomorepotlucks situates itself, print-on-demand, open source content management systems, podcasting and emergent technologies of display and dissemination, in conjunction with the mainstreaming and increased tolerance of queers (in certain places or contexts anyway), have also challenged the possessive nature of lesbian history, as emoted by Leslie.
We lesbians could no longer take our archival collections underground, file by file, as Leslie’s 1979 plea proposed. Lesbian culture belongs to and is now housed in our personal collections, on our media players, hard drives, in email and cloud storage, and on our servers. Because the web, print on demand and podcasting allows for easy access to information, both in their creation and consumption, lesbian culture has been able to expand and redefine itself in the digital age; lesbians and their archives can be seen and heard, not just represented and talked about. Lesbian culture online maintains the urgency and necessity of a distinctive lesbian culture, often in conjunction with, but sometimes in opposition to, queer, LGBT, as well as various feminist political stances. New means of communication have thus afforded otherwise invisible and marginalized lesbian communities the means with which to re-represent community, challenge dominant representations, highlight the importance of minority representation itself, and archive the results of their activity and activism.
WeDemand-MacPheeHogan Download PDF of our talk.
Canada has one of the oldest online video art archives, if not the oldest, on the web. Few people know about it.
Launched in 2003 after a year as a pilot project, SAW Video in Ottawa was responsible for creating a repository of 486 independently-produced videos accessible for free online, in full length. This project was called the Mediatheque. Its web infrastructure was custom-built, and the archival process relied heavily on trial and error as no precedent existed for this kind of endeavour.
The funding for the Mediatheque was allocated specifically as an archival grant under the Canadian Culture Online Funding Programs from the Department of Canadian Heritage. Preceding YouTube by two years and reaching a terabyte (over a 1000 GB) of content , the Mediatheque placed an open call for video artists and paid 200 dollars per submission for the rights to showcase works for 3 years online.
The Mediatheque lived long enough to see this contract with artists expire, though most artists agreed to renew the rights, this time without payment. In this second phase, starting in 2006, the Mediatheque continued to add new works, and featured more than 300 videos from the original pool.
In 2009, the Mediatheque’s server crashed and the project has been offline since. There was no database backup at SAW Video, nor with their corporate sponsor who was hosting the project. Neither had assumed it their responsibility. Saw Video reassembled its website using Google Cache but never attempted to piece together the Mediatheque via the Wayback Machine or other means. For SAW Video, the crash represented an opportunity if not a cry for change. It was time for reflecting on the project in relationship to emergent social media that now largely constitute the web. After more than 6 years online, had the needs for this archive changed? Had the context for video art expanded in ways to render the project obsolete? Revived, would the Mediatheque be a relic, or does it remain a failure of the very concept of online archiving by virtue of its ephemeral nature? Is failure embedded into the concept of the online archive?
Apart from the grant application and few reports to the government, little documentation exists about the Mediatheque, and nothing at all exists that attempts to answer these questions or to situate the Mediatheque within the framework of media studies, archival theory, or video art’s art history. (Besides my doctoral work, that is).
Today, SAW Video plans to rebuild an archive containing many of these videos, however no longer under the name Mediatheque and with no necessary attachment to the 2003 version. In this sense, the new repository is neither a straightforward continuation nor an attempt to replace the defunct project. The new version was originally intended for December 2010, but continued delays suggest that the conundrums of the online archive remain, for which pragmatic and philosophical questions alike are difficult to answer of in the long-term thinking demanded of the archive by very definition.
So the burning question is: is failure embedded?
Hogan, Mél. “Archiving the Crash/Crashing the Archive” Video Vortex Reader II: Moving Images Beyond Youtube Amsterdam – Institute of Network Cultures. 2011
About the book: Video Vortex Reader II is the Institute of Network Cultures’ second collection of texts that critically explore the rapidly changing landscape of online video and its use. With the success of YouTube (’2 billion views per day’) and the rise of other online video sharing platforms, the moving image has become expansively more popular on the Web, significantly contributing to the culture and ecology of the internet and our everyday lives. In response, the Video Vortex project continues to examine critical issues that are emerging around the production and distribution of online video content.
Following the success of the mailing list, the website and first Video Vortex Reader in 2008, recent Video Vortex conferences in Ankara (October 2008), Split (May 2009) and Brussels (November 2009) have sparked a number of new insights, debates and conversations regarding the politics, aesthetics, and artistic possibilities of online video. Through contributions from scholars, artists, activists and many more, Video Vortex Reader II asks what is occurring within and beyond the bounds of Google’s YouTube? How are the possibilities of online video, from the accessibility of reusable content to the internet as a distribution channel, being distinctly shaped by the increasing diversity of users taking part in creating and sharing moving images over the web?
Contributors: Perry Bard, Natalie Bookchin, Vito Campanelli, Andrew Clay, Alexandra Crosby, Alejandro Duque, Sandra Fauconnier, Albert Figurt, Sam Gregory, Cecilia Guida, Stefan Heidenreich, Larissa Hjorth, Mél Hogan, Nuraini Juliastuti, Sarah Késenne, Elizabeth Losh, Geert Lovink, Andrew Lowenthal, Rosa Menkman, Gabriel Menotti, Rachel Somers Miles, Andrew Gryf Paterson, Teague Schneiter, Jan Simons, Evelin Stermitz, Blake Stimson, David Teh, Ferdiansyah Thajib, Andreas Treske, Robrecht Vanderbeeken, Linda Wallace, Brian Willems, Matthew Williamson, Tara Zepel.
Colophon: Editors: Geert Lovink and Rachel Somers Miles. Copy Editor: Nicole Heber. Design: Katja vay Stiphout. Cover Image: Team Thursday. Priner: Ten Klei, Amsterdam. Publisher: Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam. Supported by: the School for Communication and Design at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (Hogeschool van Amsterdam DMCI). The Video Vortex Reader is produced as part of the Culture Vortex research program, which is supported by Foundation Innovation Alliance (SIA – Stichting Innovatie Alliantie).
To order a hard copy of Video Vortex Reader II email: email@example.com
Geert Lovink and Rachel Somers Miles (eds), Video Vortex Reader II: moving images beyond YouTube, Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2011. ISBN: 978-90-78146-12-4, paperback, 378 pages.