CalRBS Curated Special Topics: Artists and Archives

Course Information

Instructors: Katherine Agyemaa Agard, Michalle Gould, Amanda Martin Katz, Barbara Calderón, Sarah Russin
Coördinator: Sean Pessin
Location: online
Mode: synchronous distant learning


Course Summary: The CalRBS Curated Courses welcome a range of speakers in one subject area. Participants will have the opportunity to learn about the course topic from a variety of expert professional perspectives.

Aside from being pleasantly assonant, artists and archives are a natural pair. The resources that each bring to their overlaps often produce and reproduce art! What that means for each practitioner on either side of this joining is as different as the practices, methods, and aesthetics that inform their disciplinary distinctions. Now in an era that appreciates the erosions of these once firm barriers, it is important for both artists and archivists to think about how to best form relationships and practices that facilitate the work to be done by artists and archives. To this end, this experimental course invites five practitioners who occupy the intersections and interstices of these two worlds to conceptualize and orient current issues artists may face in accessing archives, using archival materials, and collaborating with archivists to make works informed by archival practice, as well as the issues surrounding archives that want to invite artists into their spaces, collecting the works of artists, and  expanding the users of said archives.

Curator: Sean Pessin, CalRBS Project Manager

Instructors and instructional session abstracts:

Day 1 Led by Katherine Agyemaa Agard


I want to talk about personal archives and inheritances. I want to talk about loss, gaps and erasure. How is memory recovered? What is the role of (when things are like), what is the line between cultural appropriation when one attempts to recover memory from a distorted public archive? What are the lines and rules between the private and the personal to do so? What does it mean, under all of these considerations, to make something public?

I will talk about family archives, scrapbooks, artist books and drawers full of paper; collage; painting and theories of abstraction, memory, representation and historical specificity, searching for lost things; oral history; theories of forgetting; paraphrasing and ways of recording, inaccuracy in copying and questions about original. Readings and source materials will come from fiction, poetry, and film, and many questions will be included.

Day 2 Poet-Librarians in the Archives, led by Michalle Gould


In this session, we will discuss the intersection between libraries and archives and creative work. We will talk about how artists can make use of libraries and archives to inform their practice and how librarians and archivists can open up their spaces to artists and encourage their collections to be used to produce richer and more well-researched poems, stories, novels, films, and even visual and multidisciplinary art. The instructor will discuss her own experience using library and archive materials to generate fiction and poetry and we will use the course session time to workshop finding materials that will be useful to the participants. The course is designed to be collaborative and to generate new ideas for creative pathways in the weeks, months, and years to come.

Day 3 — Library as Medium: An Artist’s Socio-Spatial Approach, led by Amanda Martin Katz


This session will open with a discussion of how artist Amanda Martin Katz’s project BOOKSHELVES explored social epistemologies of collection-building through collaborative and transdisciplinary art practices. After turning her studio into a reading room-cum-event space and positioning her private library as a set of publicly accessible materials, she created a program for artists-in-residence to activate her library collection through its subsequent reorganizations. Residents also engaged the collection by loaning titles from their home libraries for three-month periods, and collaborated with Katz to design installations and public programs that conjoined cerebral and somatic modes of inquiry. By literally and figuratively dismantling the constructs of her own education, Katz’s BOOKSHELVES project created a continuously shifting physical and conceptual site where transdisciplinary ontologies emerged from each resident’s reconfiguration of the collection.

How and why do we know what we know? How have our institutional alignments and social/geographic networks shaped our senses of both cultural histories and contemporary intellectual discourse—and what is the effect on our practices as cultural producers? When we apprehend a text cerebrally and somatically, how is our understanding of, or relationship to, the content affected? This was the core question asked through the BOOKSHELVES residency program as a collaborative epistemological project. It has been my hope that by examining the institutions and social networks that have formed our “intellectual bibliographies” we can gain (greater) agency in how we continue to learn and practice.

After the discussion of Katz’s project, the session launches into a collaborative workshop and digital archive activity. Participants are asked to submit a photograph of their home library prior to our meeting, which will be exchanged at random amongst the group. Each group member will construct a new ontological schema for the collection photograph they’ve received, as we attempt to re-see our knowledge bases through the eyes of others. These real exchanges of hypothetical reorganizations will be documented on a dedicated website for this group’s session.

Day 4 — Zine Fairs as Cosmic Affairs, led by Barbara Calderón

This session will contextualize the concept of a ‘zine fair,’ defining it as a locus for identifying material considered archives that live on the periphery of the academic or mainstream cultural institution where materials made by people of color often live. We will discuss the curatorial process for El Zine: Contemporary Underground Archives, a collection of 58 zines made by 31 Latinx artists exhibited at The Latinx Project at NYU in 2019. We will look at this project as a case study in exhibiting DIY published material and analyze how one assigns value and uses alternative methods for collecting and archiving contemporary material that is often ignored or disregarded in the academic context. We will also discuss the overlapping roles of collectives, distros, artists, activists, cultural/community organizations and librarians in organizing these events. Lastly, we will delve into questions about how to reconsider the goal of perpetuity versus immediacy as it relates to the artist and archive. 

It would be helpful to read a few things: 

Day 5 — Led by Sarah Russin


This session will focus on a discussion around archival use at LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions), the longest-running contemporary artist space in LA. In 2018 The Getty Research Institute acquired The LACE Archives in recognition of the organization’s 40th anniversary. What were the challenges for a small institution such as LACE in developing their archives over the decades, and what is the interplay between the physical objects and the digital documentation?

We will touch on four exhibition case studies to generate conversation together as a group around these questions:

  • How was the Archival Impulse: 40 Years at LACE, which was on view for three years, conceived and organized?
  • In what ways have LACE curators used outside archives as the basis for exhibitions, such as Emory Douglas: Bold Visual Language
  • and El Teatro Campesino: 1965-1975?
  • How did LACE’s Chief Curator of the summer 2021 exhibition, Intergalactix: against isolation /contra el aisalmiento, use the LACE Archives to inform and engage with the project?

We will discuss how writers, curators, and artists have used the LACE Archives for inspiration and research. What next — what are the strategies for building on the digital archives that are instantly available to the public?


Described above.




Completion of this course helps to meet credits for one of the following certificate requirements:

  • 1 of 3 elective credit courses for Certificate in Rare Books and Manuscripts, or
  • 1 of 2 elective credit courses for Certificate in Librarianship, Activism, and Justice