Archiving for the Future

Robin Kilmer Nov 19, 2012

Social movements have always been difficult to archive. Too often, they are repressed and censored. Also, as media become digitized, there may be fewer tangible artifacts left behind for posterity to consider.

“With iPads and Kindles all of this printed information is co-opted
by corporations. You can’t share it, you can’t give it to a friend, you don’t even own it. Even though people see digital media as a way to make texts conveniently accessible, it’s just this nebulous kind of world at the same time,” explains Molly Fair, a founding member of the Interference Archive (IA).

But the Brooklyn-based IA — which will be a year old this December — seeks to preserve political ephemera through exhibitions featuring everything from bumper stickers and T-shirts to posters and magazines, while also exploring the relationship between cultural production and social movements through talks, screenings, workshops and publications.

In the very tangible, user-friendly
world of IA, ephemera from anti-nuclear movements from the ’70s coexist with books about Native American resistance. There is a drawer full of posters designed by Peg Averill for the War Resisters League (some of her original prints are part of the Smithsonian Institute’s permanent collection). Visitors to the IA can pick up the posters and interact with them.

“We’re able to look at this legacy of design and how ideas are created through visuals,” says Fair, who, along with fellow archive founders Josh MacPhee and Kevin Caplicki, is a member of Justseeds artists cooperative.

The IA has featured several free exhibitions exploring a range of social movements, including Riot Grrrl, the anti-nuclear-power movement in Japan and a retrospective of work from Sublevarte, a Mexican printmaking collective that started in 1999 during a student strike at the National School

of Arts. This fall, IA also hosted a series of open houses, and the organization’s future plans include developing an online database of the materials in its collection as well as offering extended hours.

While some might question the role of printed material in future social movements, Fair doesn’t think that posters, stickers and the like will be undermined by the digital age.

“You can take a roll of stickers and go from downtown to uptown putting them up everywhere. You’re going to get all kinds of reactions and you’re going to understand the ways the public space is policed,” explains Fair. “People still have to be out in the streets and interact with each other in person. Having a huge sign, though it may seem old-fashioned, definitely isn’t something that’s going away.”


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