Constituting the Archives of Artist-Run Culture: A Self-Conscious Apparatus of History

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Plant, Johanna
Canada , Community Archiving , Artist-Run Archives , Artist-Run Centres , Cultural Democracy , Artist-Run Culture , Historiography , Archives
This study investigates the production of knowledge through the archives of artist-run centres in Canada in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Archival scholars recognize that the ways materials are collected, presented, and controlled in an archive can impact the types of narratives that may be created from them. But how do such operations occur in artist-run centres, and what challenges might they pose to the construction of historical narratives? What can the ways in which centres define, organize, and provide access to their archival materials reveal about artist-run culture? More specifically, how do systems of ordering, acts of donation, archival architecture, and virtual archives of artist-run centres affect the potential use of these materials in future histories? This contemporary art history thesis borrows literature and questions from cultural studies and archival science. I explore the multiple and fluid forms of archives claimed by each of these overlapping disciplines, and by artist-run centres themselves. To generate new information about artist-run centre archives, I employ a sociological-ethnographical approach, undertaking a broad survey of arts-related self-organized entities, and conducting interviews with selected representatives of artist-run centres. The assumption that informs these methods of investigation is that information about artistic, archival, and administrative practices can best be gathered from the practitioners themselves. Such an approach respects the knowledge and autonomy of the individual and organizational participants, and is in line with a general artist-run ethos, which calls for the recognition of the experience and expertise of artists and cultural producers.
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