May 19, 2014

Archivist / Curator / Record Label

Archivist / Curator / Record Label

by Dan Finn

My thesis, part of the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation (MIAP) requirements, investigates the preservation of digital materials from independent record labels (audio, artwork, documentation, etc). The rhetoric of the conclusion is largely indebted to the concepts introduced to me in Paolo Cherchi Usai's "Charter of Curatorial Values" (Film Curatorship, eds. Usai et al, pp. 146-160). The debt comes from his discussions on the overlap between archivist and curator, and more widely his statement on the role of History (capital H) as curator.

Usai states how there is overlap between the functions of archivists and curators and that their roles are complementary. Both must "collect, preserve, and make accessible a collection" (147). In each case choices are made to actively pursue some content and not others.

Discussing the rationale for preservation and acquisition selections, Usai states a very eloquent formulation of a notion that troubles archivists, curators, and others in 'the archival community' everywhere and always. "History is the most selective, powerful, and often unforgiving curator of the cultural heritage (through a series of events ranging from cultural trends and economic influences to wars, genocides, and natural catastrophes) what posterity will have an opportunity to experience and what will be bound to disappear forever" (154). Aware that s/he is one facet of this historical horizon, the curator "has the responsibility to decide what should be preserved first" (154). In carrying out this responsibility, the curator must "make informed choices within a body of work so vast as to require a hierarchical approach to their treatment" (154).

As such in the context of my writing I would locate the independent record label owner as being a curator that (often) operates without the complement of an archivist. The label makes selections out of a vast body of potential releases and bands to create a collection of releases that either purposely or not ends up being representational of a certain time, region, genre, etc. They collect and make accessible, but preservation is largely incidental. As a result in my conclusion I try to leverage this curatorial and archival responsibility to act as one of the first lines of History's curatorial work. Passively engaging or altogether ignoring preservation leaves a label's material susceptible to a digital oblivion. Why not fight History's power and see the work you have selected live on a little longer?

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