Archive Fever: Tools and Contexts

Brooklyn Museum: Cylindrical Vessel

My professional career truly began at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2002. I’d held interesting and other Arts management jobs before and since that time,  however my first AHA moment was during curatorial internship in the Arts of the Americas. I didn’t know it, but I caught the Archive Fever at the Brooklyn Museum!

My favorite internship task was cataloging ancient artifacts in the staff-only storerooms. I thumbed through the card catalog (with real cards!) to find object references and descriptions. Then I added information to incomplete records in the computer archive. The curator, Nancy Rosoff and I visited the storeroom and sorted through the Museum collection and photographed, tagged and arranged items to indicated that they needed to be professionally photographed by the Photography department. This was our archival process. I am pleased to note that the images you see are objects that I’ve handled during that time.

Brooklyn Museum: Reclining JaguarOK

I enjoy the tools and practice of archiving. From the material to the pixelated, I am drawn by the initial mystery of an object, the inquiry into its origins and meaning, sometimes surprising discoveries, and categorizing items is a an investigative and associaive process that I appreciate.  I heart the tools of the trade, be they fabric gloves to protect “pre-historic” ceramics and textiles from my skin oils, to my sleek 500Gb, 7200rpm  G-drive mini external hard drive that stores my data set and digital stories.

Brooklyn Museum: Tripod Bowl

My work with the collection was doubly special to me. In addition to my enjoyment of the tools and practices of archiving, I reveled in the ancestral resonance of working with functional items from South America because my family hails from the same continent.  Of course, the best guesses of why and how an object was used, doesn’t often convey absolutes about the “life” of the object before we encountered it. Hence the challenge of the archive as a technology, and using today’s technology.

An Archival Object

Including an image of the hard drive now archives my archive. Meta!

Archives gather items from different places, varied moments in time, separate owners and etiologies, and groups them into the same topical space while feverishly insisting that they are related. The original context and reason from whence they came or were preserved is often lost or reproduced at the barest minimum of certainty. When the objects are grouped, they then  become something different than what they were when they were separated by time, place and circumstance, nee context, as they fulfilled their original purpose.