#Art, #Archives, and Counterpractice

I recently visited the Internet Archive‘s celebration of the Grand Re-opening of the Public Domain. The Internet Archive’s audio files gave me my first opportunity to listen to audio of the Philippine Constabulary Band, in which my grandfather and granduncle performed during the early 20th century. While at the Celebration, I was able to view and read artist Paul Soulellis‘ experimental publishing and archival work (he was giving away 100 free copies of his “book” Queer.Archive.Work 2, 1923 Queer Internet Archive Edition which literally recovers “sites of erasure,” all now available in the Internet Archive). He writes:

Traditionally, stories involving people of color, queer people, and other historically-marginalized voices have been left out of archives, or diminished, because of ignorance, homophobia, and racism.  Histories aren’t “discovered” in archives; rather, we use archives to actively construct versions of history, stories that accommodate our own subjective positions and ideologies. All too frequently, these stories favor the familiar structures of oppressive power—whiteness, patriarchy, and capitalism.

Internet Archive Blog 1/25/2019, Paul Soulellis: https://blog.archive.org/2019/01/25/queer-archive-work-2-1923-internet-archive-edition/

Pages from Queer.Archive.Work 2, 1923 Queer Internet Archive Edition, curated art project by Paul Soulellis.

This isn’t new information to me; what stopped me in my tracks, though, is how he translated this archival situation into art and publishing. I did my graduate work on pre-WWII newspapers published by Filipinos in the U.S. So, I’ve always been interested in alternative ways of publishing, printing, and generally getting the word out; and how poems and short essays were published in ethnic newspapers when mainstream publishing mostly ignored ethnic literary production (unless they contributed to some sort of governmental propaganda, e.g., the war effort).

My writing (poems), archival work in the Asian American community, and painting/collage practice have occasionally intersected, but (it seems to me) uncomfortably. Now I’m beginning to see some ways that each practice can inform, challenge, and perhaps cross over into the others.

What can be done? It’s crucial that we carefully examine our archives and search for lost voices, stories of failure, non-linear trajectories, and other non-conventional perspectives. We must refuse to accept traditional timelines at face value, and work to amplify marginalized material that has otherwise gone unnoticed, or erased. When confronting an archive or any presentation of historic cultural material, it’s irresponsible not to ask urgent questions like: What forces shaped this? Who was excluded? Who else should be included here in order to better understand the material at hand? Once engaged, we can actively work to change the shape of history, giving it dimension and depth and greater representation for all who were involved. This is what I’ve been calling queer archive work.  


The burgeoning Internet Archive itself, Soulellis’ work, and the video, “Paul Soulellis: Counterpractice” (see below), are upending and invigorating my perspectives on producing art and working with archives.