Aside from its excellent choice of title – the Interference Archive also has one of the best slogans of any collection: Preservation through Use. I met with volunteer librarian Vero Ordaz in Brooklyn during a stinky hot july to talk about what this means in practice.
Interference Archive is a collection of ephemera and residue from underground, protest and punk DIY cultural political movements. It was founded by 5 people—Kevin Caplicki, Molly Fair, Dara Greenwald, and Josh MacPhee—and opened at the end of 2011 with an all volunteer consensus decision-making governance and curatorial model. Currently about 70% of the collection comes from the personal archive of Dara Greenwald and Josh MacPhee, which includes books, prints moving images, badges, pins, flags, and art works from the past 25 years.
The collection is open for the public to freely access and work from the space, and the material is regulary curated into exhibitions. At the time of my visit, the gallery space featured a comprehensive historical survey of significant protest songs from the past 5 decades called “if a song could be freedom . . . Organized Sounds of Resistance”
I was interested if there was an alternative taxonomy employed for this archive.
Our taxonomy has grown – some of it is very formal – best practices in the field and some of it is dictated by what the collection it is. There is a lot of discussion because we are trying to open access to information; part of that a barrier is accessing material through this idea of taxonomy and making sure that it does make sense. Some of this work defies easy categorising….A lot of the material here wasn’t created with the intention of archiving. So there could be questions about who made the material, where did come from, and a lot of it can’t be explained by using a conventional reference system of ownership and creation. The object was originally made to appear ephemeral and so is very much connected to its place of space and time So its really interesting when you start to look at how material gets moved through society and gets reused.
What sort of people come and use the library?
It depends—the more people learn about the space the more varied it becomes, especially through our exhibitions. We have school groups and educators specific to our exhibition, as well as the general person who may be interested in the aesthetic and those who are curious about general social movements, and then there’s researchers who come in from a diverse set of fields.
When new material comes to the archive how do you make a decision about what stuff you take on and what stuff you don’t?
We apply a very practical process: do we have it? We try not to keep multiples—no more than 2 or 3 of any one item. What condition is it in?—we can’t accept material that will require preservation work, and we also don’t collect unique items—it has to be produced in multiples, because we don’t want to be the only one that has that particular work, because we don’t have the capacity to ensure preservation; we let the donors know that the material will be handled (preservation through use) We keep information circulating; we try and remove things from the commodity world and we remove things from the institutional worlds where they’re kept from a lot of people whether knowingly though lots of restrictions or unknowingly because of cultural or some other aspect.
People come in here not just to look at the posters and the LPs but they also come and find a space where there are other people who are also curious about the same things and are able to talk to each other about them. So that’s where that preservation through use thing comes in; a lot of the material here is a starting point to these conversations.
I like it when young people who are researching something they are involved in to see how other groups have approached similar issues. And sometimes its a little tough to see that, because you see we are fighting the same stuff over and over again. But it’s really exciting to see how people get inspired by how other people have done things—in very different places and different times.
We are actively trying to redefine who the community researcher is, and really place it back in the community. And then you know, anyone who wants to come in—people can just come here and use the archive and just sit in here.
Looking at the densely packed shelves, Vero indicates Interference may be having a very late spring clean.
My current line of questioning considers these kinds of archives and collections as alternative distribution and production models, as strong examples of how we can understand and circulate knowledge. I’m particulary interested in how we practice culture through the ways in which we distribute and build networks, and how those things like circulatory networks function as irrigation systems. I like the idea of archive preservation through use which is designed to keep knowledge moving—to keep it dynamic, alive and flowing. In an austerity riven world, the discard culture is an accumulation of toxicity that tends to block circulation. Conversely, the right kind of interference can disrupt the accumulation and get it flowing again.
Thanks for the Interference, and thanks Vero for welcoming me into the space!