Kate Hennessy – Public Salon: – Cultural Anthropologist


I asked someone I greatly respect Who in this city Struck you with their Incisive intellect and powers of observation made me one person Our next guest is a cultural anthropologist Who specializes in media at SFU’s school of interactive art and technology her making culture lab is exploring multimedia techniques of Preserving First Nations and settler culture Here to share some of her insights, please welcome Kate Hennessy Thank you so much, Sam and Thank You Lynn. I’m really honored to be invited to speak I also want to just start by acknowledging that we’re on the ancestral territory of the Musqueam Squamish Tsleilwatuth people and this is a little bit of the part of the story that I’m gonna tell tonight I’m gonna talk about a project That I’m working on with the artist and the anthropologist Trudy Lynn Smith The project I’ll talk about was inspired by something That we encounter when we were doing research together a few years ago at the Chicago Field Museum We had been looking at Northwest Coast pastel drawings that had been collected for the World’s Fair in 1893 When we came across this imprint of one of the drawings on the inside of the manila Folder that had contained it for more than a hundred years We were transfixed we stared at it We took pictures of it, and we started to wonder what other lively activities and chemical reactions were objects like these initiating in archives Against the will of archivists and maybe even the order of the archive itself While we imagine our museums and our archives to be stable repositories of our Histories and of our memories we also see the force of entropy burning very brightly in these institutions With human caretakers freezers and even robots working very hard to keep this deterioration at bay Tree and I wondered could documenting these Transformations than telling their stories provide a new insight into the archive and its structures Now in our work together over the last several years. We’ve seen how these materials are initiating new forms of Association That are quite different from those categories and classifications that archives have used to contain objects However at the same time these transformations can label these Objects as an archival or marked for removal and destruction Last year Trudy, and I spent time in the provincial archive and Victoria Archivist Anton Cara and conservation manager and Berlin gran took us with them through the archives pointing out things that stood out to them as particularly interesting or remarkable and Referred to objects that she was unable to preserve in the archive as fugitives and for us this was a very intriguing concept So we set up a photo studio in the archive and we worked with Anne and Amber to document some of these fugitive objects We started in this process and in talking to them to understand that the an archival force of molecular transformation of chemical reactions and then other human and non-human interactions turn archival materials into fugitives in a number of very intriguing ways for example objects become fugitives because they have been exiled a Pile of wallets collects at one end of a shelf in the archive over many years These most personal of possessions arrive with the states of people like judges or people with no will or relatives to receive them they Have no place in a bureaucratic archive, but they persist on the margins nonetheless in this little little pile disconnected from their archival documentation, they’re made fugitives By their an archival status, but also the will of the archivist to keep them as a powerful and intimate reminder of life and death Fugitives are also anomalies In 1906 a Gitxsan Merchant named Simon Gunanoot got into a dispute with two settlers at a Roadhouse in Hazleton, BC later that night the two men were found shot dead on the trail and Simon Gunanoot and his family went on the run for the next 13 years so he eventually He eventually turned himself in and then went on to be exonerated in court here in New Westminster This is a photograph of a bullet cartridge that was found on the trail and was included as evidence in the court proceedings but this anomalous object is now a Physical threat to the integrity of the archive because it could it’s volatile it could explode So like Gunanoot. It’s fugitive It’s outside the order of the colonial archive, and it’s problematic to preserve within the context of its history But the bullet for us provides insight into the ways in which humans in the colonial archive make decisions about what is Archival what is an archival and then what is fugitive? Fugitives are also mutable because they both become and unbecome fugutive Based on how they’re valued or devalued by archivists So this is a box It’s containing trapline records that were in the collection of the fish and the wildlife branch of the BC Government in Prince George It contains important correspondence between an Indian Agent and the Government Arguing that Haida trappers had long had Established trapping rights in their territory and that the same territory should not be handed over to settlers now in the story that Anton cotta told us these records had been deemed an Archival they were on the loading dock on their way to the dump When an observant person walked by and thought there might be something important there looked at them and made them Archival again by bringing them to the Provincial Archive So these trapline records hold ongoing value for the negotiation of unresolved land and treaty rights in British, Columbia Objects also become fugitive by nature of their inevitable material transformation, so they literally cannot be preserved This is an image of what happens when nitrate negatives Elude preservation storage in freezers the auto catalytic nature of the cellulose nitrate and acetate Means that once the process of deterioration has begun new properties are generated by this degradation and then these new properties create further degradation so the process is unpredictable its contagious and Like a prison break these chemical reactions trigger fugitivity in nearby materials I’ll end with this example of a fugitive 16-millimeter color film in which the colors cyan and blue have faded leaving only magenta behind So this is a soviet film about the life cycle of butterflies and moths made in the 1980s Around the world color film that was produced with Kodachrome From 1950 through the 80s is collectively turning pink Now United in these archives by color as well as the content This documentary medium that was once considered stable has turned out to be volatile although I think quite beautifully so these magenta films remind us that while there’s beauty in material transformation our current digital practices May not even leave this kind of trace behind when these files are corrupted or Obsolete so will will your photos last longer than this pink film I’m not sure in our work in archives and museums so far Trudy And I have observed how archivists and curators practice these relational acts of shepherding materials through these constant states of change, there’s a tension between the charge of preservation of archival materiality and acknowledgement of the fugitive nature of all things So in this thinking archives are not outside of us nor of the past or for the future rather they run alongside and in relationship with living beings Entropy is the generative force of things breaking down on their way to becoming other things What will be remembered and the form that those memories will take may or may not remain to be seen thank you