LINEAGE: Matchmaking in the Archive
A love-letter on a red napkin, a pair of sequin gloves, an unpublished sci fi novel, a government security clearance, a gold wheelchair trophy, a photograph of Dining Hall #3 in Topaz, Utah: these are just a few of the artifacts that first lured me to the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Historical Society archives in San Francisco. It was an easy seduction; I am a sucker for mystery and have always found the visual evidence of a person’s life uniquely compelling.
It seems I am not alone. LINEAGE: Matchmaking in the Archive is a project I have developed as the Historical Society’s first artist-in-residence. One by one I match the archives of the dead to living individuals, asking each to invent a response. The resulting encounter resembles a blind date: I think about chemistry, about demographics and mutual interests, about what might emerge from the vault. No one is matched to someone they knew and the collections I select have not yet been in the public eye. Mostly, I use intuition to match creative individuals with an archive that might turn them on. The intense dyadic relationships forming in this process are becoming a kind of lineage, one that resides outside bloodlines and marriage contracts and often outside identity boundaries.
Near the end of 2010, 24 people have been matched to 24 archives. 8 or 9 new participants are waiting for the next chapter in this project. Some are already matched; for others I need to return to my old cruising ground, the aisles where I locate just the right collection. People die. New collections arrive at the GLBT Historical Society, new kids on the block, waiting for their official spot on the shelf.
The creative work to come out of this process so far has been displayed in 3 exhibitions, performed in several public events, and presented on 3 continents. LINEAGE: Matchmaking in the Archive provides one model for reclaiming historical memory through individual lives, a way to bring archives off the shelf into unexpected creative visibility. For people whose collective and individual traces have so often been erased, taking charge of our community memory is still a radical act.