Reading Collections: Women's Voices from the Archive
Guest blog: Carla Valois Lobo
Carla is a volunteer at the Archives and Special Collections Centre and a former student on the MA Culture, Criticism and Curation course run by Central Saint Martins. Here she writes about her experience of collaborating with ASCC staff on reading groups that featured material from the archives:
The first major project I selected to undertake for my MA was an exhibition on British musician Lindsay Cooper. She passed away in 2013 and her former bandmate, filmmaker Sally Potter, had donated around 10 boxes of material to UAL’s Archives and Special Collection Centre. Hence, this collection was my introduction to the archives. I spent a number of months researching Cooper’s collection alongside eight colleagues, and the experience was so pleasant I asked Georgina Orgill, Assistant Manager and Kubrick Archivist, if I could volunteer at the ASCC.
Georgina had the great idea of creating a reading group to highlight three of the collections held by the ASCC. What these had in common was that they were all somehow developed by women. Although two were still uncatalogued, one of the aims here was in itself to acknowledge the existence of the collections, and make them accessible to students of the University of the Arts London. Moreover, at least for me, it was to engage critically with the practices of archival collecting and the typical ‘white, cisgender male’ bias of the field; to call this inequality into question is a matter of pushing forward the previously mentioned practices of archival collecting.
My MA classmate Vanessa Spiridellis, and I agreed to co-deliver the reading sessions with Georgina and Assistant Archivist Robin Sampson. We came a few times to the ASCC just to delve into the collections and therefore to select the material we would use. Reading Collections: Women’s Voices from the Archives took place in November and December 2018. Because Vanessa and I knew Lindsay Cooper’s collection quite well, the first session focussed on her writings. We read Adventures in the Wine Trade, an unpublished piece from the 1970s that is autobiographical, as Cooper really worked in a wine bar in her 20s. This session had 12 attendees, and we analysed the text in depth and discussed its underlying meaning.
Session Two comprised Jo Ann Kaplan’s archive. Kaplan was an American artist, filmmaker and professor who lived in London, and was best known for her controversial short film The Story of I, (1997). We discussed The Invisible Woman, an unpublished treatment for a short film circa 1991. It was fascinating to debate with others how society regards older women, and the fact their perspectives are rarely taken into consideration. We finished with Watching Paint Dry or Dorian Gray, a video from 2009 in which Kaplan is filmed drawing her self-portrait.
The third and final session was on the Her Noise archive. The piece we chose to read was an extract from a 2002 interview with curator Lydia Lunch, which caused a fair amount of debate among the 12 attendees due to her raw language and controversial opinions.
The reading group was overall a very positive, and exciting experience. I was glad I was able to discover these collections and support in a way the women behind them. If I remember correctly the majority of attendees of the reading group consisted of female students who identified themselves with some of the issues the pieces raised. Hopefully we will continue with this initiative, and maybe in a not so distant future the legacy of more women can be found within an archival setting.