ArchivesPosted on Friday, November 14th, 2008 at 10:42 am | See all Artists' Blogs, Landscape, Thea Eck Entries.
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Archives revolve around the language of collecting: gathering, amassing, accumulating, assembling, hoarding, saving, conserving, storing. They record the Who and the Where of items, often the significant What, and sometimes the How, which is their journey into the realm of the archive. Archives have rules for what can pass into their habitat and what cannot. Some archives become closed, barring new contributions. They are specific to time period or personality of their original collector(s). The pop artist Andy Warhol’s personal archive is an extreme example of the word ‘archive’. He saved everything — from store receipts to empty food containers to concert posters, and even his taxidermied dog — in order to create a time capsule for each year of his life.
The Arctic Institute’s archive wanders like sprawling city streets. It is an open archive that readily accepts donated Danish-Greenlandic material. Upon checking its registry, we might pull from the shelf a series of three cardboard boxes labeled for a person such as Danish artist Harold Moltke who ventured in and out of the Arctic his entire life. We can follow his pursuits through personal letters sent from Greenlandic explorers, Danish biologists and geologists doing field studies in Greenland, missionaries and Greenlandic inspectors, and other Danish artists. Then we come across his personal diaries from two expeditions — his own mundane words about day-to-day events, but without any drawings or indications that he was an artist. Next we unwrap from white tissue paper his family name’s monogram stamp, for he was also a Greve, a Count. Then amidst all of this Danish language, there is a folder containing six neatly creased New York Herald newspapers, European edition, from Paris, 1909. Their front pages proclaim American explorer Dr. Cook’s saga of supposedly reaching the North Pole on April 21, 1908. But the newspapers reject our delicate attempts to unfold them. They are steadfast in their need to remain closed. So we leave them alone. Finally we come upon a few of Moltke’s rough pencil sketches from the 1899-1901 “Nordlysekspedition” (Northern Lights Expedition) in Iceland and Finland.
Eventually, we close the cases and stack them back onto their shelves. We ponder the life of this man, this artist, this adventurer, who we did not know but whose life was intimately amassed, gathered, assembled and saved in the archive’s city walls. We breathe in and realize that there are many more lives connected with the Arctic surrounding us in boxes and boxes, amassed on shelves and more shelves. Our ears ring from the cacophony of their voices.