Friday, December 30, 2011

The Big Archive

Reading with one eye on the words and one eye focused inward, looking for that connection between what is written and myself, I found it somewhere around page 122 of Sven Spieker's The Big Archive.

Like most ideas when first encountered and that later become influential in my life and work, I understand less than half of what I see. The concept of archive as a repository of collections of things, and the necessity of keeping those things connected to their original provenance offers a new way to think about my photographs. As I read a twisting in my stomach grows, an agitation comes from a thought in my mind that I can't quite grasp. Like waking up after a vivid dream, convinced I would always remember it, only to find later that my only memory is one of an unspecified dysthymia and a frustrating inability to recall something forgotten forever.

I reread lines and paragraphs until they make even less sense than they did at first. This is a good. A good place to be. Not knowing is where life gets interesting. The place of not understanding is where that connection I am looking for exists, despite not being able to see it now.  The significance of the practice archiving and all that it means resonates in a deep place.

Foremost on my mind these days is my dying father. Because of the geographic distance our time together is clumps of scattered visits and phone conversations. Finiteness and unpredictability makes these visits precious. Born in Detroit in 1930 he is the last in my family to bridge a history that began with Eastern European immigrants. The second oldest of four boys raised by a German mother (divorced at a time when such was the exception), he joined the Navy at seventeen. After two tours with the Navy he returned home with the skills of a pipe fitter that lead him to work with one of the Big Three – Chrysler Motors – from where he retired 35 years later. He represents the diverse and magic past of a time that will never be again. He witnessed the rise and fall of the auto industry, labor unions, corrupt politics and the great urban beauty of a now ruined city. He grew up in an exciting world of industrialization and the Depression. His maturation paralleled the growth of a city once dubbed the "Paris of the West". Anticipatory grief has many faces, part of which is sadness over the loss of loving a person and what they represent personally and historically. My father is an archive of not only of family but of an era that will never be duplicated. When he is gone so will my access to this material. He is my archive.  

There is no such thing as coincidence but there is synchronicity. The timing of reading The Big Archive with my personal situation, and recent photographic work with snapshots, are threads coming together just when they need to . As a graduate student, educator and artist, my task is to think deeply, and question everything I see and make. It is not enough to create art that is technically adequate and esthetically beautiful. Vigilance and dismembering are vital. It may be uncertain how my art will change from the understanding of its archiveness but change it will. Hidden in The Big Archive are the clues I need to go forward and honor my father and grow as an artist.  I accept the responsibility of collecting, sorting, documenting, preserving and displaying this archive.

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