Invoking the Archive as a Condition of Possibility

On 11-11-2017 I set the altar to invoke the possibilities of archive in our artistic practices. The altar held symbolic objects that drew in the spirit of how archival work has the potential to call upon ancestors (the skull); to go deep into vessels holding knowledge guarded in the dark (the conch shell); to build off lineages of practices, being, and identity (the pinecone); and to transfer and transform wisdom and teachings within our own realities (a medicine wheel).  The altar was the grounding for our workshop, Deconstructing the Archive as a Condition Possibility, that gathered over fifteen participants at B4Bel4B Gallery in downtown Oakland.  Angela ‘Mictlanxochitl’ invited Andrea Ancira and Enrique Arriaga Celis from Mexico City to present and to offer different approaches to archival practices via each of our unique experiences and approaches.  The space was not a “how-to” but more so the laying out tools and practices for participants to contemplate their own unique approach to the archival process. To invoke the condition of possibilities archives stretches our imaginations beyond the production of archival work to intentions, responsibilities, and purpose woven through each of our personal past and present.

Image: Workshop at B4bel4b, Oakland

“This tone also resonates with the process of becoming the archive, of transforming alien memory into one’s own. As an act of appropriation, converting the old into something new, digesting ‘the secretions of an organism’, but avoiding traces of nostalgia.” - Enrique Arriaga Celis

Enrique opened our gathering by sharing two projects activating the archive via his artistic and creative practice.  He offered through is personal experience of how working with objects and concepts of counter and sub-culture to be shared in institutional settings like a museum is complex and left to the subjectivities of one’s positionality. The project ‘Psicosintesis Technicolor’ (2013) made in collaboration with Naomi Rincon-Gallardo, is a music video that spans subculture musical genres such as folk, Son Mazateco, psychedelic rock and noise music. In this project the archive is veiled, it becomes the background for the creative actions re-produced and performed. The music video is activated in a way that it becomes something very different from its source. The archive was the center to reminisce on the spirit of time and Enrique’s personal relationship to the material stemming from his parents.  The hyper stimulation of the senses through the  multimedia resources, such as slide projections, mixed music, films, and artwork created by the participants offered the archive as an altered state of consciousness to those in the present.

‘Fanzinologia Mexicana1985-2015’, the second project is a comic’s anthology made in collaboration with illustrator Inés Estrada. The book is a documentation of the project Fanzinoteca, an archive of zines, fanzines, comics, and self-published printed material within Mexico City.  This project highlighted the challenges of collecting materials sourced from marginalized scenes of cultural production and the constraints of restricting them to a museum´s repository. Enrique acknowledged the complexities and contradictions but how he through his role as a cultural broker of the archive strived for harmony.  He created an open invitation to the public and insisted the museum respect and compensate artists participating fairly. In addition, Enrique relied on counter-culture networks tp spared the word of the open call and once the project was produced he committed to share in the same spaces where the artist were sourced. The project gained a lot of media coverage and became a platform not only for recognition and but also discourse for the cultural production of zines and DIY self-publishing phenomenon.

Image: Our altar

“My methodology offers a possibility to re-think the archive from its foundation—from the perspective of the fever, and of the acts of those whom it infects, its community.” - Andrea Ancira

Andrea, a cultural worker intersecting research, editorial, and curatorial practices, illuminated the power of a ‘counter-archive methodology’ through her current research and curation of the exhibition (opening April 2018) of Mexican experimental gay filmmaker, Teo Hernández.  Over the past three years, Andrea with the permission of Teo’s partner and family has been not only deeply entrenched in his archives preserved in Centre Pompidou in Paris, France but also awakening his spirit and the materials through social engagement.  By organizing focus groups, she invited participants both new and old viewers of Teo’s experimental films, to offer a current discourse through movement, space, body and images. She describes this approach as a ‘counter archive methodology’ because the materials generated from engaging the ‘original’ archive forms a ‘pirate archive’.  A documentation of the activation to and from the archive.

Because their are limitations of removing items from the institution and transporting them to Mexico, this approach aims to actively address the issues of access, bias, and injustice within the record by purposefully exposing what is left out of institutional, mainstream archives to reveal the possibilities for a more complex historical record. It also questions the extensive power vested in the sentries and rather move to a space of agency where the archivist assumes his/her power to re-contextualize and adjust the barriers and access to information.  Lastly, it offers a possibility to re-think the archive from its foundation, from the perspective of the fever, and of the acts of those whom it infects, its community.

“Consent pushes the boundaries of inquiry." - Angela Mictlanxochitl

Angela Mictlanxochitl closed the gathering by asking everyone to take a step back and consider the possibility of engaging the archive as a ritual or ceremony.  She invited everyone to situate the archive as memory,  Spirit, and/or an  energetic presence.  The premise she set was that the past is a gift to live into our futures. Although Angela Mictlanxochitl leaned on her Mexican ceremonial teachings, she suggested the container as an opportunity to imagine archival work as a practice, maybe even a spiritual practice.  The reason being ‘care’, care for oneself, the archive, and the relations represented in the histories and future of a subject.

Archive as Ceremony centers the  four teachings passed down from Harry Charger, Lakota Elder and founder of the ceremonial dance for Mother Earth. The principles of respect, accountability, responsibility, and compassion are the guiding principles of the archivist, a holder of knowledge.  These principles help the holder of knowledge to navigate the mysteries of archival work.  Time is immense and vast and there is so much unknown, regardless of what objects or testimonies remain.  

A ceremonial approach uplifts the value and possibilities of consent.  Consent is not a strict sense of permission, consent is a form of engagement and the openness to accept whatever response comes: critique, refusal, or even joy.  Consent is a negotiation, a way of engaging with this complicated histories and emotions sullied by time and objectives.  Utilizing the lens of consent, the holder of knowledge can imagine that the archival process may present moments of failure to the subject and its relations, and stresses the sensitivity and the dynamics of collaboration. Asking for consent energetically or formally helps the holder of knowledge to avoid bypassing the complexities, political, social, and emotional, to act with respect, accountability, respect, and compassion.

The archive as ceremony is an opportunity to practice being aware of our relationality to the archive and the care asked for all the relations activated by needs and/or desire in the creative process of working and imagining the mysteries of the archive. We are not always going to please or satisfy everyone, but ceremony can guide purpose, guidance, protection of the intention of the archival work.

MADE Grantee Reflection

I, Angela Mictlanxochitl, am left wondering of how we work with the desire, needs, curiosities of re-membering objects, spaces, stories of time before and time to come.  Particularly when I hold a position that the future is NOW.  Creative production of the archive is crafting a future through a present lens and activation. Like time before, there are layers that privilege and interfere with the archive.

The invitation to engage a dialogue of ‘deconstruction’ with Andrea and Enrique invited a moment to observe the future in the present. By spreading and scattering the moving parts, material and non-material archival process, participants were invited into the sensibilities of their archival work.  Personally, I observed and valued their acceptance of the limitations within the abyss of the archive.  By accepting the limitations, they created a plurality of creative juxtapositions to stand within a public gaze and to complicate the contradictions of their desires and visions, as artists and as futurists.

11-11-2017 situated the archive within contemporary art as a tangible and intangible re-membering from time before and time to come as mysterious plurality of fugitive co-creative enaction not complying to ‘truth’ but through the act of being touched and consenting to refusal via liberation.

Gratitude to the MADE grant for enabling space for the stories of the futurist of today.

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Emerging Arts Professionals/SFBA is a network focused on empowerment, leadership, and growth of next generation arts and culture workers in the San Francisco Bay Area through knowledge sharing, learning opportunities, and partnerships.


Emerging Arts Professionals/SFBA is a network focused on empowerment, leadership, and growth of next generation arts and culture workers in the San Francisco Bay Area through knowledge sharing, learning opportunities, and partnerships.

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