Image has been cropped to fit online format
22 May 2020

Archival Interactions 2: Criticality and Solidarity

CLOSED LAB | May 22 | Zoom

This session is the second of the working group "Archival Interactions: Artists and Archivists for Intersectional Research" led by Eliza Steinbock of Leiden University with Sher Doruff of DAS/ARIAS (February 2020 – February 2022). It takes place within the NWO Smart Culture project “The Critical Visitor: Intersectional Approaches for Rethinking & Retooling Accessibility and Inclusivity in Heritage Spaces” (2020-2025) led by Eliza Steinbock (Leiden University) together with co-leaders Hester Dibbits (Reinwardt/Erasmus) and Dirk van den Heuvel (TU Delft/HNI).


The project investigates how heritage institutions can achieve inclusion and accessibility within their organization, collection, and exhibition spaces in such a way that meets the breadth of demands placed upon the ‘museum’ by today’s “critical visitors.” The proposed research program asserts that critical visitors challenge the presumed space of normative heritage, such as the values of ‘collecting’ and ‘display’. Hence, this research program seeks to create a new benchmark in the field by acknowledging and accounting for the generative role of critical visitors, employees, and activists in evolving and diversifying museum and archive practices. Fifteen heritage partners collaborate on activities to develop language and tools that dismantle intersecting oppressions, forms of exclusion, and marginalization.

The research program of Archival Interactions takes place at museum/archive partner’s sites bringing together artists and archivists to develop strategies for conducting intersectional archival/artistic research, attending in particular to loss and gaps in the processes of collecting knowledge. Archival Interactions will result in a performative symposium at DAS and articles in the Journal for Artistic Research, or a similar open access forum.

These sessions aim to provide a platform for artistic researchers and archives working to critique or dismantle mechanisms of exclusion or violent inclusion. This working group aspires to be a supportive professional learning community wherein: daily practices are reflected on; a shared vocabulary for intersectional research is developed; and, an opportunity to expand one’s (research) network is facilitated.

This iteration of Archival Interactions is titled "Criticality and Solidarity" and focuses on how black solidarities can be identified within and through archival materials. To enter into diasporic communities' archives, which are located in colonial museums, raises a number of issues: What is the rationale for including these materials? Why have they been commissioned or selected? What do they document? What is missing? How can we approach them through an intersectional analysis? How does this approach enable us to critique and reframe the materials? We will read Katherine McKittrick's "Mathematics Black Life" article (2014), which poses the relevant question: What “do we do with the archival documentation that displays this unfree and violated body?" We also read the article in the company of Dionne Brand's poem, “Return I” (2002), about the ever-present, affectively heavy afterlife of slavery. 

Further considerations include: What happens when the critical visitor engages with an institution? How do institutions/archives/etc. listen to visitors who critically engage and bring forward uncomfortable conversations/questions? In which ways can visitors, communities and guests influence, contribute and perhaps use the institution to invoke the stories, narratives and works that are not yet present, not yet heard or still unwelcome? How might we honor the collections and archives so as to activate the minor histories attached to the objects and photography, which collect dust or continue to be misread?

Amsterdam Oost
Amsterdam Oost

Eliza Steinbock

Eliza Steinbock is Assistant Professor Cultural Analysis, Leiden University. Author of Shimmering Images: Trans Cinema, Embodiment, and the Aesthetics of Change (Duke, 2019), co-editor of Art and Activism in the Age of Systemic Crisis: Aesthetic Resilience (Routledge, 2020), and project-leader of “The Critical Visitor” consortium, developing intersectional approaches for inclusive heritage (2020-2025).

Eliza Steinbock