Within sauntering distance of twin cultural behemoths of SFMOMA and YBCA, the archives of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society rest discretely on the third floor of a somewhat generic office building on Mission Street. Long collecting and preserving the history of GLBT people and communities, the archive (as happens to archives in the hands of artists) is currently being mined and interpreted by Santa Cruz-based E.G. Crichton. Crichton, the Historical Society's first artist-in-residence, works with the materials in the archive with the intention of opening unexplored, left behind, and invisible histories. To accomplish such a task, she pairs living artists and scholars with the archives of single (deceased) people. The subtitle of the show has the faint aroma of romance: a matchmaking, with all of the serendipity and potential (perhaps for disaster even) of a real date. Crichton presented the first round of projects by the first thirteen participating artists of this experiment in the Historical Society's exhibition space, in a show entitled Lineage: Matchmaking in the Archive.
Matching the living with the dead, Crichton hopes, as stated in the press release, to unearth the lives and personalities of people who might otherwise become forgotten, a semblance of ephemera stored uniformly in their neatly labeled boxes. The artists, including Elliot Anderson, Bill Domonkos, and Tirza Latimer, become makeshift historians, eachaccountable for addressing the legacy of the otherwise forgotten. Although many of the pairings seem a little provacative among these Tina Takemoto found herself matched with another Japanese American, Dominika Bednarska with a similarly wheel-chair bound individual—in general Crichton's choices displayed careful consideration and offered extensive material for artist engagement, the match. Takemoto, for instance, has approached the assignment so whole-heartedly that she continues within her larger practice to produce work inspired by Jiro Onuma's life. In short, the project effectively dug into the rich archive to unearth startlingly human stories of tragedy and joy. Artists appear to have found in the rambling repository, inspiration. They’ve found it in both the information held within the boxes, but equally in the striking absence of information, a duality that poignantly marked that every life will be devoured by lacuna and the bracing limitations of personality.
In the installation, Crichton has taken up the aesthetic of the archive itself. The show is organized around the modular furnishings typical of an archive. Cardboard filing boxes are stacked near the entrance, industrial carpet covers the floor, and a Plexiglas grid evoking Sol LeWitt stands empty, implying the many unknown lives not depicted here. But, I wonder, has the archive as a space really been considered here? If so, why not go all the way?
The grid of boxes at the entrance, made visually interesting by an unconventional stacking, could better commit to the curatorial idea if it were, very simply, more boring. Similarly, the Plexiglas containers, though fabricated to the same dimensions as the boxes, are reminiscent of vitrines, thereby affording the objects a high art status not usually connoted by archives, a status that art begrudgingly refuses, if ever. Lineage offered up fascinating life stories through the compassionate treatment of participating artists, but it would have been truly memorable had the installation been more committed to the aesthetic with which it flirted.
All images courtesty EG Crichton, the artists, and the gallery.
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