Cartographie d'une pratique / Mapping a Practice
Encounter with an artist
Transcription is one of the most consistent ways in which individuals organize their thoughts, work through their ideas, and share information and knowledge with those immediately around them. Transcription in its documentary form allows the textual embodiment of an individual experience or memory to be shared and disseminated through time and space. Examination of an individual's archival material, as the documentary evidence that has been created, accumulated, set aside and saved through these acts of transcription, makes possible the revelation of one of the most intimate portraits of the individual available to others.
The acquisition of Vera Frenkel's archival material is an attempt at capturing just such a portrait. Moving beyond the traditional "artist's archives", Frenkel's papers encompass more than the by-products and output that surround her artwork. With the acquisition of Frenkel's papers, there is an attempt to acquire that which reveals the whole and interrelated life of the artist. Art does not exist in a vacuum, and Frenkel's work in particular, directly related to the here and now, is strongly connected to the immediacy of the world around her. Her personal papers allow us to peer below the surface and encounter the complexity of the individual, her life experiences, and the myriad idiosyncrasies, biases, beliefs and feelings that enrich our understanding of the artist and the events that have shaped her life. In going beyond the bounds of the artwork, we are actually attempting to encompass the work in its contextual site of creation, which affords us a better understanding of its intrinsic meaning and impact. The acquisition of Frenkel's archives therefore takes us past her work to include the whole of her documented and documentary life, for life and its living informs and indeed is at the root of the creative process.
What eventually ends up constituting an "archive" is driven by a host of forces, internal and external. Not everything survives to become part of an archive. It will be dependent on factors both personal and practical. Papers are ephemeral and can be lost; digital files can be corrupted and overwritten; emotionally motivated actions such as self-censorship, embarrassment, sensitivity or discretion can lead to the wilful destruction of some items; while neglect, forgetfulness and disinterest can lead to the expected natural loss of others. What does remain of anyone's papers will usually be but a fraction of the whole. One of the most common reasons documents are given to public archival institutions is the physical encumbrance of retaining and maintaining a lifetime of paper. Inevitably, what the researcher may perceive as crucial parts of the documentation are not always saved or preserved in their entirety. Thus, segments of a life disappear from the record, reduced to brief mentions or implied references scattered throughout the material, with the essence of the matter never truly revealed through the documents at hand. The archival encounter is therefore destined to be incomplete; it will remain partial. Not only are there many things that never make it into the archives, a number were never recorded in a documentary manner. There will always be gaps and silences. And these silences should not be mourned, for where gaps and silences exist, the resonance of an echo can be heard, revealing a certain amount of knowledge about the past yet again.
In working with the artist and her papers over the past number of years, I have come to believe that her artistic work is enmeshed and interwoven with the archival endeavour. ...from the Transit Bar is an almost perfect allegory for the archives: an intimate experience, which draws one in with conversations overheard, secrets alluded to, narratives overlapping, complete and interrupted. Intrigue and mystery; memory and loss; silence. A heteroglossic euphony of stories and lives.
The invitation in this exhibit to explore and examine a fragment of the documentary life of artist Vera Frenkel is a unique opportunity that allows the viewer an inside look at her creative process: an invitation to peek behind the curtain. The gallery visitor is often filled with interest and curiosity about who, or what, resides behind that curtain, which levers are being pulled, whose voice is being amplified, what the smoke is hiding, and why there are mirrors. This exhibition provides the viewer an opportunity to pull aside the curtain, revealing the documentary evidence that contextualizes the piece and examines what motivates, inspires, confines and constrains the work. The casual viewer gains a point of entry into the work that is both informed and meaningful.
Heather Home has been the Public Services and Private Records Archivist at Queen's University Archives, Kingston, Ontario since September 2001. Prior to arriving at Queen's, she worked at the Provincial Archives of Alberta and CBC Vancouver. Her current research interests include the documentation and conservation of media arts heritage, early 20th century Canadian women artists, and the use of archival material in creation of imaginative works. She holds a B.A. Honours from Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario and a Masters of Archival Studies from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.
© 2010 FDL