Transcript of AS-AP Panel at CAA Conference, February 2006

Posted August 05, 2010 by admin

AS-AP at CAA 2006

David Platzker (Moderator)
Linda Frye Burnham
Margo Machida
Steven Englander

David Platzker: Good afternoon, I'm David Platzker, the Project Director for AS-AP, Art Spaces Archives Project and on behalf of AS-AP I want to thank the College Art Association for providing AS-AP the opportunity to present this panel today. 

If you don't know, AS-AP is a non-profit initiative founded by a consortium of alternative arts organizations including Bomb Magazine, College Art Association, Franklin Furnace Archive, the New York State Council on the Arts, the New York State Artist Workspace Consortium, and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Our mandate is to help preserve, present and protect the archival heritage of living and defunct spaces of the alternative or avant-garde movement from the 1950s to the present throughout the United States.

We have received funding from NYSCA, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. With the funding we have received, AS-AP has begun the process of documenting, by routing out, a national index of the avant-garde as well as assessing the needs for archiving and preserving historic materials.

AS-AP's belief is beyond simply identifying the whereabouts of centers of activity. We acknowledge that there is an underlying need to assess, catalog and preserve important formative materials for study by historians with a critical distance.

I want to acknowledge our Steering Committee members, which include Rebecca Cederholm, who's here today, from College Art Association; Linda Earle, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture; Milan Hughston, the Chief Librarian at the Museum of Modern Art; Elizabeth Merena, from the Visual Arts Department at the New York State Council on the Arts; Andrew Perchuk, from the Getty Research Institute; Marvin Taylor, who is the librarian of the Downtown Collection at Fales Library at New York University; and Martha Wilson from the Franklin Furnace Archive.

AS-AP has developed an on-line finding aid to the places, spaces and other centers of alternative art activity in the United States from the 1950s to the present. We find it surprising that no other such index has been compiled, and what we're compiling is an index that's inclusive of non-profit spaces, night clubs, periodicals and any other locus of activity including for-profit quasi-non-profit venues or other forms of hubs of activities. Currently we've indexed over 1,000 such spaces.

Secondly, we're interested in the states of these archives, how these archives currently exist. As most contemporary alternative or avant-garde arts organizations are by definition interested in embracing the new and not obsessing over the past, AS-AP wants to determine the physical condition of these historic documents such as announcement cards, board minutes, correspondence, ephemeral materials, fiscal documents and other flotsam and jetsam that provide concrete documentation of artistic residue as well as more immediate materials such as audio tapes, artistic debris and other materials, if not the artworks themselves. These materials, if recognized, have great value, both physically and historically, and most venues of the avant-garde or alternative activity simply don't have the time, money or desire to maintain these materials and occasionally throw them away, or at best send them into deep storage. 

Further, AS-AP wants to quantify the exact extent of the material out there to ascertain the storage conditions, provide standards and know-how, and long-term we hope to provide funding to help preserve this vital heritage for study by historians. AS-AP's website, which is, is a public location for research, and I want to encourage you to browse the site, where you'll find more information about AS-AP, as well as our index to the alternative movement and other resources. If you have an archive, you can see if you're already indexed. If you're indexed, we can also provide you with a password so that you can take our survey and tell us about your archive materials. If you're not indexed, you can add yourself to the database with a single click. If you're a scholar, our database is fully searchable for your own use in discovering the wealth of activity that's occurred in the United States. We ask our organizations to conduct a survey, which is about a 20-page survey that asks questions that range from when were you founded, are you active, are you defunct, to questions about the types of materials that you have and the physical conditions. Are they in banker boxes that are archivally housed that are maintained in temperature-controlled areas, are they in a wet basement, are they moldy, are they about to be put on the street for recycling. 

At last year's conference, I chaired a panel titled "Buried Treasures," which featured Irving Sander, Marella Consolini, Julie Ault, Yasmin Ramirez, and Marvin Taylor. A full transcript of that panel is also available on our website. Last year our dialogue was largely about what constitutes an archive, the value of preserving these materials and a critical dialogue about the state of the archives in the alternative movement. 

This year we're turning the tables. We've invited three individuals representing three very different organizations to talk about the founding of their respective organizations, what happened to the organizations at mid-life, and why two of these organizations terminated their activities while a third probably, perhaps, is entering into something of a living and breathing renaissance period. One of the unifying themes of today's panels is that of communities, which itself is an operative element of the avant-garde and alternative movement. Also we're going to try to do something novel: we're giving away money. The goal that we have is twofold. First, we want to encourage scholars to engage with the alternative organizations of the period. Second, we want to highlight these three organizations and to pair an emerging scholar with each. Ultimately each scholar will conduct research using the organization's physical archival materials, perform oral histories with the founders of the organizations, and to publish on AS-AP's website the conclusions of the research and oral histories. In spring 2006 will invite proposals from emerging scholars to conduct research with High Performance, Godzilla and ABC No Rio. Three chosen individuals will conduct on-site research in 2007 with edited oral histories to be published at the close of that year. Each scholar will be provided with a stipend, as well as costs associated with editing, and each organization will receive money as well for participation in this. 

We want to use – AS-AP wants to use this as a process, as a template for emerging scholars to engage in the rich history of the alternative arts movement. Central to this investigation will be the utilization of archival material, the identification and preservation of which, of course, is fundamental to AS-AP's mission. With that said, I want to introduce today's panel. Linda Frye Burnham will reflect on the history of High Performance Magazine, which was published between 1978 and 1998 and tracked the changes in the alternative arts movement during those years. High Performance followed the cutting edge of performance art through feminism, multi-culturalism, activism and community-based art. High Performance was also closely engaged with the so-called Culture Wars of the 1990s. After the demise of High Performance, Linda and her co-editor Steve Durland wrote about these challenges in The Citizen Artist: 20 Years of Art in the Public Arena. Here's the book. Still in print?

Linda Frye Burnham: Yes. 

David Platzker: And currently Linda and Stephen run a website called the Community Arts Network, which is A traveling exhibition about the first five years of High Performance along with an award-winning essay in College Art's Art Journal, were created by historian Jenni Sorkin in 2003. High Performance's archives currently reside at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. 

Dr. Margo Machida will discuss the formative years of Godzilla, the Asian American Art Network from her perspective as a co-founder of this collectively run group in the New York city-based arts, in which writers and curators were also engaged. She also will examine the period in which it arose, and what distinguished Godzilla from groups that emerged in the context of the 1970s Asian-American art activism. Founded in 1990 and active for over a decade, Godzilla was conceived as a pan-ethnic, cross-disciplinary, multi-generational form aimed at fomenting a wide-ranging dialogue in Asian-American visual arts. Over its lifetime it sponsored art exhibitions, public symposia, open slide viewing for new artists, and published a newsletter that featured emerging and critical writing and news from artists across the country. It also served as a platform for art advocacy. Godzilla's archives are now housed at Fales Library at New York University. 

And finally Steven Englander will discuss the history of the Lower East Side art center ABC No Rio, which was founded on New Year’s Day in 1980 in New York City. He'll address the changes the organization has undergone over the years as well as how the spirited values that animated it in early days continue to inform No Rio and its facilities, projects and programs. Since its founding, No Rio has been host to a wide range of artistic expression dealing with war, homelessness, drugs, punk rock, performance art, spoken word and poetry, sex, violence, and the politics of housing and real estate, among much else. No Rio's archives are currently held in part by No Rio, as well as in the hands of a number of No Rio's founders and early participants. 

These three organizations underline the various states of archival preservation. While two of these organizations' archives are housed in institutions, High Performance's archives are currently quarantined due to an infestation of bugs, Godzilla's archives are currently being processed, and No Rio's archives are now being assessed with the assistance of Brenda Parnes, from the New York State Archives and currently lacks any finding aids at this time. At the close of today's panel we'll have a discussion among ourselves and then open up to questions from the floor. Before I begin I also want to plug an exhibition currently on view at the Grey Art Gallery in New York, through April 1 titled "The Downtown Show: The New York Art Scene, 1974-1984," which parallels the activities of these three organizations, including the founding of No Rio. There's also a book called The Downtown Book, which has just been published, which goes with the show. The show also will tour to Philadelphia in May, and Austin in November. And with that, I'd like to introduce Linda. 

Linda Frye Burnham: Hi everybody. I'm really interested in this archive project because trying to archive these particular generations of art is like trying to catch the wind. It occurred to me the other day that what we were doing with the magazine was a lot like being a tornado hunter. Did you ever see that movie "Twister" where the tornado hunters are following the tornado in a pick-up truck and they have these little sort of ping-pong-ball-sized devices, that they hurl them into the tornado and then when they fall to the ground, they contain some documentation of what was going on inside. And of course it's a great risk of life and limb and extremely expensive, so that's what it was like to do High Performance. I started that magazine in Los Angeles in 1978 all by myself on $2,000 that I borrowed on my signature from a part-time job at UC Irvine. And, I did it because I was really interested in what I was seeing happening among the artists in Los Angeles. A lot of them were doing something that eventually became performance art, but they were all visual artists at that time, and they were bringing visual art off the wall and into real time. And it was just astounding to me, because I felt – I had an MFA in creative writing at that point, and I felt crippled by working in one medium. And performance artists were using all different kinds of media. They were inventing a new form. And I remember thinking at that time that it called up a line from a book I was reading, where someone was so handicapped because he said he felt like a one-legged man in a three-leg-at-a-time culture. And it was a time when culture was just rushing forward. So much was going on in the early '70s and it was very difficult to keep up with it, and one felt one could do anything and just keep going. 

I was a housewife with three little kids when I discovered performance art, and I was watching television at the time, and I saw Chris Burden be interviewed by Regis Philbin [laughter] on channel 11. And, he was talking about this piece he'd done called "Shoot," and he called it a one-second sculpture, where he'd had someone shoot him in the arm with a rifle, and he took a picture of it at the point of impact. And it just, my brain exploded. I thought, my god, what an amazing concept. Because it was 1972 and people were, you know, getting shot at Kent State and dying in Vietnam and violence was a very appropriate subject, and here he had figured how to deal with it in a completely unusual way, and of course it was so notorious that it was on television. And I thought, my god, are there other artists doing this kind of thing, and maybe their work can speak to people like me. I'm a non-academic, I'm not even out in the art world, I'm just a mom with three kids. The second thing that I saw on television that dragged me into the art world was a piece called "Womanhouse," and it was a film -- made by Johanna Demetrakas that was being shown on television-- of a project, an installation project by a bunch of feminists from Cal Arts, and they'd gotten a hold of an old house that was just about to be torn down on Bunker Hill in downtown L.A., and made installations inside of it on the theme of women's lives, and this was way in the early '70s when feminism had just begun to pour over our lives. And I was so astounded by the things that I saw, there was the fried-egg kitchen, that was painted flesh-colored and there were fried eggs on the ceiling, and then as they progressed down the wall they turned into female breasts, and on the stairwell there was a mannequin dressed as a bride that was coming down the stairwell on a rail to the tune of "Here Comes the Bride," and when she got to the bottom there was this horrendous crash, and then she'd go back up and do it all over again. [Laughs] And I was just astounded by this. I thought, this is the first time art has ever had anything to do with me. So long story short, I wound up in the L.A. art world, going to performance after performance and these amazing installations at places like the Woman's Building, and nobody was writing it down. The L.A. Times wouldn't cover it. There was a publication called Artweek up in Oakland that would occasionally cover things, but they didn't really seem to understand what they were talking about, and I said, I've got to start a magazine. And the reason I started it was because two of the most influential things in my life at that time, in the early '70s, were magazines, Ms. Magazine and Rolling Stone. And those two things really energized my life enormously. And so, it was natural for me to take up a magazine as a tool. And I decided that what I would do is try to focus on the artist's voice, and principally tell people what was happening in these performances. So there were a few interviews in the first issue, Susanne Lacy was on the cover, but most of it was taken up by the Artist’s Chronicle, where there would be two pages facing each other, one full page photograph from the performance, and on the facing page the artist's description of what they did in the performance, exactly what happened. And then there would be the place and the time and the date, and the artist's name. The magazine did that on a quarterly basis for about five years until people started demanding critical writing and reviews. And so we changed our format and tried to present critical writing. But in this context I'd like to say that now, 20-what, -five years later, what historians find interesting is the artist's voice, not the critical writing or the criticism that went on in our magazine, or pretty much in any other magazines. What they want to know is, what actually went on? And they're able to go back to High Performance now and find that out. 

There was a show done by Jenni Sorkin, a graduate student, in art history at Bard, who took the first five years of High Performance and went into our archive and documented a lot of that work that we showed in the magazine in those days. There are a lot of interesting things about High Performance. One is the journey that it took from performance art through interdisciplinary art through multiculturalism through socially engaged art, and then to community-based art, and if you're interested in that journey, you can read the parts that Steve and I wrote in our book The Citizen Artist about how and why the magazine changed as it followed the artists along those paths, why it went from formal experimentation to an emphasis on content to an emphasis on context. So those are all really interesting things. I wanted to say a couple of other things about the audience that read the magazine. They were people from all walks of life, not just scholars and people with arts educations, but the audience that I was trying to reach, more of a general public that responded to this work sort of on a heart-level as well as all the other levels. The other thing that is interesting about High-Performance is the milieu in which it existed. We were in Los Angeles and in California, not in New York, and whenever I would meet somebody from New York that knew about the magazine, they would go, ooh, your magazine's really great, too bad it isn't in New York. And we were not only covering California, we were covering, actually, the world, pretty much all of the 50 states, and we had subscribers and artists in all 50 states and we had various contributing editors all over the place, too. So I was often referred to as a regionalist, because I wasn't focusing on New York. I resigned as editor in 1985 and Steve Durland took over at that point, and I went on then to found an arts complex in Santa Monica, five buildings full of offices and studios and performances spaces and so forth, and High Performance was ensconced there. And Tim Miller and I started a performance space called "Highways" there. And all four of the NEA four who had their grants taken away from them by the NEA performed there. Tim Miller was one of those people, and High Performance wound up in the middle of the Culture War, and it got passed around on the floor of Congress, because we had ads for Highways in it that looked just blatantly gay. And at one point, one of the congressmen actually read a whole issue of High Performance into the congressional record. [Laughter] So, there was a lot of activism around, uh, when we were in that environment. So those are just some of the things that I think would be fun to probe, uh, if you're interested in doing your scholarship with High Performance. As we said, the archive is at the Getty right now being fumigated, but, there’s a lot of correspondence from some of the early artists. Paul McCarthy was on our second cover. There is all kinds of interesting stuff. People gave us artwork, lots of photographs and letters and so forth, and, it’s very interesting stuff to page through if it hasn't all been eaten alive by now. 


Margo Machida: Was Godzilla a feminist group, a gay and lesbian collective, an Asian American or a foreign-born artist group? Was it about protest, or a group that sought to “mainstream” its members? A community forum, or instead a challenge to existing community groups? In truth, as an art group that encompassed every one of these interests and more, Godzilla could be all of these things and none of them -- depending on where and when you encountered its various members. As one of Godzilla’s three co-founders, I’ll offer my perspective on the history and activities this dynamic New York-based Asian American network and art collective. I will also speak to the continuing need to do primary research on groups like Godzilla, in order to construct a more inclusive account of art and activism during the 1990s. 

Activist artist and scholar Greg Sholette points to “shadow archives” – “ghostly” records of cultural production by groups whose existence, for the most part, has passed unrecognized by normative art historical scholarship. During the eleven years of its existence Godzilla served as an important platform and catalyst that brought the sensibilities and issues of significance to Asian American and Asian diasporic communities into a broader public conversation. Beyond the support and feedback they provide for their members, the interventions of marginalized and minoritarian groups like Godzilla are ultimately significant for the pressure they exert on the dominant art world’s representational and interpretive practices, as well as on its claims to broader inclusivity. 

The late art historian Alice Yang describes Godzilla as an “anarchistic lizard.” Founded in 1990, Godzilla took its inspiration from the fierce fire-breathing image of its fictive namesake, the giant “dino-dragon” of post-World War II Japanese science fiction films. Under its aegis, members initiated an array of collaborative projects, from newsletters and magazines to panels on Asian American art and full-scale exhibitions. From the onset, its founders envisioned Godzilla as a loosely-knit forum where artists, curators, and writers of different Asian backgrounds and generations could publicly share their work and ideas. Throughout, Godzilla sought to maintain an open, flexible network of participants and venues by not being tied to any specific Asian community. Indeed Its roving meetings were intentionally held in artist lofts and at community, academic, and alternative art spaces across the New York City area. 

Despite eventually receiving some project funding under the umbrella of the Asian American Arts Alliance, and maintaining a central steering committee, Godzilla’s members were resistant to simply creating yet another nonprofit institution. By not requiring a physical home or stable staff, by frequently rotating its leadership, and by supporting itself through volunteer labor, Godzilla remained fluid and experimental. Since Godzilla was continually being reshaped by changing visions, and reinvigorated by the ongoing infusion of enthusiastic new blood, its various projects reflect the involvement and input of different combinations of artists, curators, and critics. 

Godzilla emerged on the cusp of a turbulent decade when the backlash in the art world and the academy against multiculturalism and “identity politics” was reaching its zenith. It was, moreover, a watershed period for Asian America due in large part to the repeal of restrictive federal immigration laws in 1965. By the 1980s the domestic Asian communities were witnessing an explosion of new migration that substantially transformed its demographic and cultural landscape. With the growing presence of foreign-born Asian artists and intellectuals being keenly felt in the Asian American arts communities, people came to Godzilla from very different trajectories. Some, like myself, were artists and cultural activists involved in the Asian American arts movement of the 1970s and 80s, whereas others were recent immigrants who typically knew little about the long, often vexed history of Asians in this nation. Whatever their backgrounds and views, the notion of being Asian or Asian American retained significant meaning during this period, since Godzilla’s members chose to participate in art projects framed in relation to a sense of “Asian” heritage. 

Prior to Godzilla, the arts groups that emerged from the 1970s Asian American movement were mainly ethnic-specific, usually run by East Asians, and were historically rooted in established urban enclaves like the Chinatowns and Japantowns. Godzilla’s founders recognized that the rapid influx from all parts of Asia, and from other Asian diasporas around the world, demanded a new type of pan-Asian, intergenerational, and cross-disciplinary platform where the American- born and the newly arrived could actively engage with one another. Clearly there was a compelling need for broader forums. Early on Godzilla would routinely attract 80 to 100 artists to its open slide shows and special forums in which prominent artists like David Medalla, Y. David Chung, and Mel Chin were featured. I will always remember the palpable excitement of meetings that included American-born Asians of all backgrounds, as well as participants from China, Korea, Japan, the Philippines, India, Pakistan, and newer Asian nations like Kazakhstan. Likewise, Godzilla’s quarterly newsletter became a popular clearinghouse for national listings of exhibitions involving Asian American artists, and a platform for issues of concern to the artist communities. Those listings in themselves form an important record of artists active in that period. 

The Curio Shop, Godzilla’s first collectively organized exhibition, debuted in New York at Artists Space in 1993. [SLIDES] Featuring forty-eight artists working in a variety of media, the show explored the ways in which commodification, economic exchange, and local tourism in Asian urban communities in the U.S. have served to reinforce distorted and static notions of cultural authenticity. The critical orientation of this show underscores the fact that younger generations of artists were becoming exceedingly aware of the politics of representation, and how the legacy of orientalism perpetuated in Western popular culture frames the ways that Asians in this nation are still commonly seen. The irreverent tone of the accompanying brochure, with essays bearing titles like: “New World GODZILLA Thang,” (Kerri Sakamoto), “Asian Fetish” (Pamela Lee), and “Bull in the China Shop” (Lawrence Chua) underscores the up-to-date and smartly contentious spirit of the show. 

Another notable project was From Basement to Godzilla. Curated by Greg Sholette, it was part of a 1998 group show at The New Museum of Contemporary Art entitled “Urban Encounters.” [SLIDES] Featured alongside five other activist arts groups – ABC No Rio, Bullet Space, Guerrilla Girls, REPOhistory, and World War III Illustrated – Godzilla produced a three-part exhibit that situated the group within a broader history of cultural activism. Integral to that effort was a timeline that charted a legacy extending from Basement Workshop, a New York Chinatown-based community arts organization founded in 1971, to Godzilla. It was accompanied by a Godzilla-produced videotape with oral testimonies by a number of artist-activists -- footage that contains unique and as yet untapped accounts of this complex cultural history. Typically the segments were set up as interchanges between members of Basement and Godzilla, in a conscious effort to elicit dialogue between artists of different backgrounds and generations. Major aspects of the discussion revolved around how new immigrants are positioned and position themselves in relation to prior Asian American arts activism. 
Certainly, connections between American-born and foreign-born Asians cannot be assumed. In this video project, I was paired with Calcutta-born artist Rina Banerjee. Her remarks emphasized the very different perspectives of contemporary artists whose sensibilities are formed in a vast trans-global circulation that encompasses South Asia, Africa, Britain, and the Caribbean, as well as the US. According to Banerjee, such conditions produce experiences and identifications that significantly differ from a conventional model primarily informed by the history of East Asian migration and struggle in America. Another valuable component of the project was a special portfolio of prints and writings produced as a tribute to Yellow Pearl, a boxed collection of song sheets, poetry, and art prints published by cultural activists from Basement Workshop in 1972. [SLIDES] 

Although Godzilla espoused no definitive ideological or political agenda, it did at times serve as a vehicle for arts advocacy, in contesting the practices and expectations of “mainstream” institutions. In 1991, for example, the group published a copy of an open letter that had been sent to major museums throughout New York City. The text challenged the lack of representation of Asian Americans in that year’s Whitney Biennial. Noting that no individual Asian Americans were featured in painting, sculpture, and photography, some members conducted research revealing a long-standing pattern of non-inclusion – apart from its perennial nod to the video artist Nam June Paik. Members of Godzilla subsequently met with then-director David Ross and the Whitney curators to discuss their concerns. This advocacy effort drew art world attention to the group, as there were no recent precedents for such an action initiated by Asian American artists. While no tangible promises were made by the Whitney, Godzilla was pleased to note the inclusion of a few new Asian American artists in the subsequent Biennial. 

Godzilla also worked with community-based activist groups. For instance, in 1995 it initiated the project “Word Gets Around,” in which some members collaborated with Arkipelago, a Filipino and Filipino-American organization, and CAAAV, The Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence. In response to a growing anti-immigrant backlash and mounting incidences of racially motivated violence, this partnership conceived a “history truck” outfitted with detachable murals jointly created with the members of different communities, in order to highlight their particular concerns. Changing the images for each site, the project was restaged at various public events throughout the greater New York City area, including a rally in Flushing, Queens to protest anti-immigrant legislation; the Asian American Heritage Festival in Union Square; and the Filipino Independence Day parade, where it provided a highly visible rallying point during political street performances and demonstrations. 

Central to Godzilla’s reason for being was the fostering of new critical writing and documentation concerning Asian American art and artists. In this, the quarterly newsletter became a principle vehicle. For example, a 1992 newsletter led off with an extensive review of “Dismantling Invisibility: Asian & Pacific Islander Artists Respond to the AIDS Crisis,” (1991) a group exhibition organized by artist Ken Chu – along with a feature article by artist Paul Pfeiffer on the Whitney Museum symposium “Out in the 90s: Contemporary Perspectives on Gay and Lesbian Art.” The Fall 1993 issue, entitled “Nobody Knows My Name(ing)” gave vent to many artists’ mixed feelings about having themselves and their work cast in group exhibitions on the basis of ethnicity or some overarching Asian American rubric. Members of Godzilla also guest edited a special 1995 edition of the arts magazine New Observations. Entitled “On Doubling,” this collection of artist and curatorial writings addressed contested issues of representation, and self and collective Asian identifications in the United States. 

The Need for New Research and The Importance of Archives
Godzilla’s final collaboration, “Why Asia: A Public Art Project by Godzilla,” took place in 2001. Sponsored by Art in General, it consisted of a series of colorful artist-made banners hung on lamp poles along Canal Street, as part of the efforts to revive the depressed restaurant and shopping scene in New York’s Chinatown after 9/11. In retrospect, despite its wide-ranging activities, Godzilla has received comparatively little scholarly attention. Beyond the general lack of mainstream interest in ethnic-based arts groups, for Godzilla this situation is also a byproduct of never having maintained a primary site that could serve as a repository for its records, or a permanent staff to act as an institutional memory and interface with the public. By contrast, formally structured institutions are self-historicizing. They continuously generate narratives about themselves while also archiving their activities, both for their own purposes and because funding agencies require it. To not function like a traditional institution, therefore, can have significant negative long-term consequences. 

Further, as Godzilla’s members moved on in their careers, and as interest in identity-based projects waned, documentation of the group’s activities became increasingly dispersed. Existing chiefly as ephemera --newsletters, magazines, flyers, correspondence, exhibition brochures, videotapes, membership lists, and informal photographs of exhibitions -- much of what remains is scattered, often making it difficult to track down. 

Recently another of Godzilla’s founders donated two boxes of original materials contributed by group members to the Downtown Archive of New York University’s Fales Library, which has amassed the records of many arts groups in New York City. This is the first time that this material has been assembled in one place and made publicly available, and therefore presents an unparalleled opportunity for original research and scholarship in this area. However it is equally true that this relatively modest collection only begins to suggest the extent of Godzilla’s activities, considering its constantly shifting membership, and the many projects initiated by individuals and different groups under its umbrella. Because such information chiefly remains in the memories of those who participated in Godzilla, it is important to extend the conception of archival research to not only focus on existing materials, but also to the active solicitation of new information. Through hands-on dialogic approaches like oral history, opportunities exist to do unique primary research with living artists, writers, and curators that will provide a fuller view of Godzilla, and of the larger history of Asian American cultural production during the 1990s. 

Unsurprisingly, extant documentation and research in this area has almost entirely been produced by Asian Americanists. Among them, historian William Wei chronicles the emergence of groups like Basement Workshop amid a tangled web of New Left and Chinatown politics, in his 1993 book, The Asian American Movement (Temple University Press). More recently, accounts by Asian American activist-artists from the 1970s were gathered together in Asian Americans: The Movement and the Moment, published by UCLA Press in 2001. However an extended consideration of Asian American cultural activism that specifically focuses on the visual arts and artist groups -- especially in the pivotal period of the 1990s – has yet to be produced. 

Nor do such exploratory efforts necessarily extend to art historical or critical accounts of the past few decades, even in projects specifically devoted to chronicling alternative art spaces and practices. Take two recent examples: East Village USA mounted by The New Museum of Contemporary Art in 2004, and The Downtown Show: The New York Art Scene 1974-1984, currently on view at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery and Fales Library. These shows limit their conception of the lower Manhattan arts environment to certain neighborhoods, thereby revealing somewhat narrow and selective views of what occurred in the area during those years. Whereas individual artists such as Martin Wong and Tseng Kwong Chi, who actively participated in the social networks, galleries, and clubs of the East Village are accorded a place in these accounts, neighboring Asian American arts groups and venues like Basement Workshop -- to say nothing of Latinos, whose members were also deeply involved in the Lower East Side alternative arts and community “scene” -- are not cited as part of what was in fact a highly diverse demographic and cultural mix. Seemingly, the primary conception of “downtown” in these exhibitions does not extend much below Houston Street, despite the overlapping and highly porous nature of the many urban neighborhoods that make up the Lower East Side. Consequential activities of the time, moreover, are chiefly equated with youthful white cultural practices and politics, mainly alternative sexual lifestyles, and middle class rebellion. Unfortunately, rather than attempting to provide more diverse, textured accounts, these exhibitions appear to be overly focused on evoking the flashily raucous, antiauthoritarian “party” atmosphere of the period that fizzled out during the Giuliani Administration. 

Consequently, there already are calls to expand the record of this fairly recent period. For instance – in response to the Downtown Show -- art historian Yasmin Ramirez has organized an interdisciplinary panel at NYU (February 22) aimed at producing a counter-narrative centered on recognizing the cultural contributions of the many Latinos, among others, who also lived and worked in these neighborhoods. Although all historical accounts are necessarily selective and partial views of their times, and the initial efforts of the New Museum and the Grey Art Gallery certainly provide valuable entrées into aspects of the period, these efforts nevertheless remain limited. As such, they underline the need to formulate more broadly-based cultural histories that account for the panorama of artists and arts groups then active in the Lower East Side. 

An attempt at a more inclusive effort can be found in Julie Ault’s 2002 edited volume, Alternative Art New York 1965-1985(University of Minnesota Press). In a series of brief profiles, Ault touches upon a number of groups emerging from different ethnic communities, including Asian American organizations like Basement Workshop, Epoxy Art Group, and Chinatown History Project. Especially cogent is Alan Moore and Jim Cornwell’s article, “Local History: The Art of Battle for Bohemia in New York,” which offers a more heterogeneous portrait of the Lower East Side, and the impact of gentrification on working class and immigrant communities. Besides the galleries, clubs, and storefront art spaces, they also point to community spaces like Henry Street Settlement’s Louis Abrons Arts for Living Center, Charas/El Bohio, and the coalition of community groups known as Seven Loaves (with which Basement was affiliated), thereby re-aligning the story of local cultural-political activities to take account of the diverse ethnic groups that have historically made these neighborhoods their home. 

The significance of places like Henry Street Settlement to the formation of downtown “culture” – understood in its broadest sense -- also has implications for the collecting practices of archives like Fales, in potentially extending beyond what are traditionally seen as arts groups to include institutions that have long have been active centers of local community and cultural life. In closing, I’d like to point to the exploratory efforts of Italian literary scholar Mario Maffi. In the 1995 book Gateway to the Promised Land (NYU Press). Maffi offers a rich vision of the Lower East Side as a crossroad -- an urban terrain where artists and non-artists of varied Asian, Latino, Black, and White heritages and cultural interests commonly encountered and mixed with one another. Borrowing Mary Louise Pratt’s conception of the “contact zone,” I suggest that envisioning sections of lower Manhattan – and Asian American activist arts groups – as fully immersed in a syncretic intersection of cultures, classes, and ideas, would begin to yield a far more layered and inclusive overview of the complexities of art and urban life in New York City during the final decades of the Twentieth Century. 

Steven Englander: Good evening everyone, I'm Steven Englander, from ABC No Rio. I actually see myself as part of the third generation of ABC No Rio. I'm going to talk about the founding. I wasn't there at the time, so what I have to say I discovered by looking through No Rio's papers, talking to the founders and some of them are just apocryphal stories. No Rio came about following an action that was organized by a New York City arts group called CoLab, Collaborative Projects. It was a collaborative effort by artists to get together and share resources, share expertise and help one another get access to funding. They did a number of different kinds of projects, they had a public access show, they did artist books, they did silkscreen and poster projects, and they also did exhibitions, and they had spaces.

Probably the most notorious of the CoLab exhibitions was a show called "The Times Square Show," where they mounted an exhibition in an abandoned peep show at Times Square. The show they did right before that though was the one that had a lasting legacy as far as I'm concerned, it was called "The Real Estate Show." It was mounted on New Year's Day in 1980. The CoLab participating artists squatted an abandoned building and mounted an exhibition with work that addressed property, landlords, city land-use issues, and all things related to real estate and property. The show was, they went in on New Year's Eve, got the show up on New Year's Day, then came back on January 2nd and the city had shut down the show. They'd confiscated some of the art, padlocked the show, and basically shut it down. Artists were actually able to, like, leverage a good deal of publicity about this.

I think if somebody did a show like this now, not too many people would pay attention. New York City was a much different city back then. Although there have been times where the community had fought on land-use issues, like battling some of Robert Moses' especially ill-advised road construction projects and other things, gentrification was really just beginning. The idea of what it was and how it happened was just, people were just becoming aware of it. The wave of homelessness that would appear in New York City and in other urban centers throughout the U.S. hadn't yet happened. The show was a bit prescient in addressing some of these issues. I think if people did this show now, it would be a yawner. I don't think there would be a lot of press and publicity about it, and, I think the city would probably ignore it, would let the show happen, and it would peter out. I don't think they would overreact in the way that they did by confiscating the work, locking it up and providing an avenue for publicity. This is actually just south of where the Real Estate Show happened. Also, as you recall in the 1970s, New York City was, had gone pretty close to bankrupt and the federal government declined to assist. The Lower East Side, part of the Bronx, Harlem, substantial amounts of Brooklyn, were in rough shape in terms of the urban fabric. There was a lot of desolation and there were a lot of empty and abandoned buildings, so there was this irony of buildings just sitting unused and empty, which is why in the poster we first saw it said "a building is not a precious gem to be boarded and hoarded." The Real Estate Show happened at 123 Delancey, this is looking up, it's just one block north, two blocks north of that street you see. So this was the area the Real Estate Show happened in, in a great amount of desolation. Even more of those buildings have since been knocked down; they're now parking lots. And the building that they squatted to mount the Real Estate Show has also been taken down. So when the show happened it was a much different city than what New York is now. Nevertheless, the event itself was like political theater, the intervention – as you see, everybody's smiling, including the cops. This is one celebrity photo, and his appearance, Josef Beuy's appearance probably helped in getting the word out and lending some publicity to the action. But from what's been characterized to me on January 2nd, there wasn't a lot of tension. It wasn't like the standoffs between squatters and police five or ten years later where you'd cut the tension with a knife. It was political theater, everybody recognized that, and everybody seemed to be having a good time on January 2nd. On January 3rd, though, the artists started organizing and figuring out what should we do, how should we publicize this event, how can we bring the issues that the show was about to the attention of other people. And they began to do that through their public access show, a few press articles that appeared in the mainstream press as well as East Village newspapers like East Village Eye and other magazines. They banged out their little press release and announced a press conference. At this point they were able to figure out a way to, like, make it a little bit catchy and call people's attention to the issue and make it seem quite outrageous, how the city had overreacted to this event. They briefly relocated this show, and there was enough political and public pressure on the city, that they [the City] ended up getting forced to actually work with the CoLab artists, and they ended up about three months later giving them a storefront and basement at 156 Rivington Street, and that's the space that became ABC No Rio. That's probably in May or June 1980.

So the place was founded primarily by visual artists, and over the years more and more activity got layered on and at different periods, there would be like what I would call signature activities. Founded by visual artists, the first few years' signature activity was exhibitions of visual art. They were all group shows loosely based on theme extremely participatory, curated by inviting in people rather than inviting the work, and they had a lot of them the first year, probably every three to six weeks they'd have another show up. I think this picture's actually a thing that an artist named Jodie Culkin did with children called "Tube World," where she got – are those tubes in the window? Where she made, with neighborhood kids, made sculptures out of cardboard tubes. Some of the exhibitions were explicitly political, a lot of them dealt with sort of grimy, urban details like "Murder, Suicide and Junk," which was curated by a fellow named Joe Morton. This document, I actually, I hadn't seen this actual flyer before. A lot of the flyers for these early No Rio shows were xerox with crayon or watercolor or magic marker added to give it a bit of color. I'd actually never seen this one before, and I actually came across it in a box of financial documents from 1980. This is the reverse side, accounting for the bar that night. At the bottom they tell you how much to put in the shot glasses. [Laughter]

So it was initially a place for visual artists, primarily exhibitions – oops, out of order here – and more and more layers of activity got put on. They also began doing readings, performance, video screenings. This one, I think, Tuli Kupferberg is reading "The Old Fug". This is an instance where there's sort of – there weren't a lot of examples in the material that I'd looked through where they actually reference past counter-culture icons or participants, and this was an instance where Tuli came by. He actually has remained a friend of the space throughout the years. And Lannes Kenfield, I think, was an old member of the political group Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers. So they were still older gentlemen, uh, when this was coming by, and obviously invited in because people organizing it felt some sort of kinship for these individuals.

In the mid-'80s there was sort of a burgeoning and resurgence of performance in the Lower East Side and the East Village. There was sort of a nexus of places that were nightclubs, bars, alternative spaces, and No Rio was part of this network of places where performance went on. This is from something called "The Seven Days of Creation," which was a performance that involved I think about 15 or 17 artists that just was 24 hours a day for seven days. They continued to do exhibitions of visual art, there were still readings, but during the mid-'80s it really was performance that was the signature event that went on. And a lot of it dealt with issues of sexuality and gender, and No Rio was one of many places where this activity went on, and a lot of people that performed at No Rio also performed at the night clubs, the bars.

In the late '80s when I actually first started going by, '86 or '87, the signature event was an actual open-mike type thing run by a fellow named Matthew Courtney, Matthew Courtney’s Wide-Open Cabaret, and they regularly published a magazine of some of the work by the participants. At this time in the neighborhood, although I don't think the founders of No Rio would feel any special kinship for what emerged as the squatters movement on the Lower East Side in the East Village throughout the 1980s, a number of the squatters, especially some of the older ones, would recognize the Real Estate Show as being part of their own history. During the mid- to, I guess mid-'80s to mid-'90s, more and more people began taking over abandoned buildings in the neighborhood and squatting them. The neighborhood became incredibly tense and there was a sort of flowering of political activity, people having meetings in the park and what you might call legislating from the streets. In 1988 there was a massive police riot, so it was sort of a, it was like a condensation of like '60s activity within a few years in this very small area, this neighborhood basically, and No Rio was part of this sort of moment, through Matthew's, Matthew Courtney's Wide Open Cabaret, which would have poets and folk singers and political ranters and ravers and it had a part in this sort of ferment that was going on in the neighborhood. So this was another layer that went on, this spoken word and performance poetry.

We continued to have exhibitions, there continued to be performance, it was more and more elements added to the mix. In the 1990s, they began providing the space to a group of young people that began staging punk and hard core matinees. The matinees at CBGB's at the time had been closed because of the violence. A lot of the people who founded the series here were gay and they got beat up all the time. So from the get-go they began making these shows, and they wanted to make an environment where gay, young gay men and women would feel comfortable as attendees as well as performers, and women as well. So they actually, they don't book racist, sexist or homophobic music, so it's, they try to create – it continues to this day, try to create a scene where gay and lesbian youth who are into the scene are welcome as well as where women feel comfortable. So this was sort of another layer added to the mix.

So the artists who founded No Rio, obviously, with the Real Estate Show, had, like a sense or responsibility of political and social engagement. A lot of the exhibitions throughout the years, although even to this day there's no political litmus test for what shows we might do or conjure up. People who approach us with ideas as well as our own predispositions lead us to more political shows. This one's from 1984, the "Artists' Call" show. This was actually a really big this, not just at No Rio. It was a project that ended up involving commercial galleries, other non-profits, and educational institutions as well, universities. To my knowledge it's the last time the commercial galleries in New York in a big way were able to, were drawn into a basically political, political art practice. We tried doing something similar about 15 years later for Mumia Abu Jamal, but had a hard time even getting alternative spaces to come on board.

One of the challenges, I think, that all the groups of people who've been involved with No Rio have had, over the years, was, like, trying to relate to the community in which we're situated. Right now I think it's, because of all the gentrification that's happened and the number of professionals that have moved into the neighborhood the smart boutiques and clubs and bars that have opened up, I think it's hard to say that this neighborhood is primarily this or that at this time. But when the people who founded No Rio originally got that space at 156 Rivington Street, the neighborhood was primarily Puerto Rican and Dominican folks. And one of the challenges that they had and that we have up to today is, like, how do you, you know, relate to the community around you. And the founders of No Rio were primarily, not exclusively, but primarily white, and not exclusively, but primarily what I'd call exiles from the middle classes. So there's obviously, like, you know, tough racial and ethnic, social, cultural, economic differences between the No Rio artists who came in and the people who were already living there. And how do you, how do you reach out, how do you transcend without being paternalistic, which personally I've never been comfortable with. I've never been one to be evangelical about delivering art to people. But how do you, how do you do that? And one of the ways they did it was with Jody Culkin’s thing, where she made this project, "Tube World," and just invited the kids in the neighborhood to come in and participate.

Another was a project that a photographer named Tom Warren did called "The Portrait Show." I'm going to jump back a little bit. This is 156 Rivington Street right before World War II. Can you see what's in the storefront there? That's "Gus's Photo Studio." So in the storefront we now use as our exhibition space, for a number of decades in the middle of the century was a photo studio. When the founders came in, they actually came across a few of these. We've got a couple of them at No Rio right now. It’s really big; it's like 17 x 24 inches. It's a big, big portrait. So, 156 Rivington Street was Gus's Photo Studio. So Tom Warren did a photo studio project where he set up a photo studio, invited the community to come by, took their picture and gave them copies of the portraits as well. So it was one way to reach out. There was a bit of dissention about it. Some of the people who were involved in No Rio thought it was a bit sort of, uh, colonial. You know, sort of the way you might view an anthropologist who does photography. I, personally I think it was a nice gesture. They got a picture and they were actually, they're great shots. Here's one of them. Now we do a, every Halloween we do a haunted house for the neighborhood kids. So one of the volunteers wanted to reference Tom Warren's thing, so she did something much less formal than his. So how to reach out, it's always been a tough one.

I mean, to be honest with you, it's like back when, when there were more Puerto Ricans and Dominicans living in the neighborhood, I never expected the grandfathers down at the corner playing dominoes to come to a punk show, it's just not going to happen. And I don't necessarily expect the grandmothers to come to one of our exhibitions. Ultimately, for me and I think most of us, it was really just reaching the kids by actually providing tangible services, which in our case is arts education. And the kids who participated in our programs, we do the outreach at the local schools, 75% percent of them are Asian—there's a much larger Chinese community in the area now, especially since the, the late '90s— Puerto Rican or Dominican, almost all of them immigrated themselves or were the children of immigrants. So ultimately, you know, the abuelitas aren't going to come to our events, but we do provide these resources to their grandchildren, and I, that's how we do it. I think for most of us right now, we're just not comfortable trying to lure them in, in the sense of, like, delivering culture or anything like that. So that's actually how we resolve the, the tension. And by the time we did that, the neighborhood had drastically changed and there were many less of those people. It's a, a troubling irony. I think anybody who would look at this history of No Rio, it's hard to examine it without also, you know, examining New York City's land use policies and the process of gentrification in downtown Manhattan.

Even when they did the Real Estate Show they wanted to reach out to the people they knew were already in the neighborhood, and it fell a little bit short. Bad Spanish grammar and Spanish words are misspelled. And earlier I alluded to, there's just this separation that's tough to, tough to break through. They even referred to the neighborhood incorrectly in this flyer, "En El Bajo East Side, Lower East Side," but that's not how the Puerto Ricans and Dominicans refer to the neighborhood, they called it "Loisaida." So, I'm only showing you this because it's, they were, you know, sincere and the intentions are good, just to point out how challenging it is to, like, to like break through that membrane even if it seems thin, but not necessarily is. I would say there's five generations of different individuals involved in No Rio, and all, in some way or another, have had to struggle with this, with this issue.

From the get-go it was a very open and welcoming place to ideas and participation, it's a real participatory place. In the early days they had these open meetings. The apocryphal story is they had a big, huge 17-, 18-foot table they'd all sit around sort of a rectangular version of King Arthur, and they'd have dinner together, and people would come with ideas, and generating programmatic activity was part of the socializing, or socializing was part of developing the programmatic activity. During different periods, there were more or less people involved. Sometimes you might have 20 people, there were periods of No Rio's past where there were only a handful of people, but it always had this open and welcoming way of getting stuff to go on. And to this day it remains collectively run and we lean towards collaborative projects, which makes sense, since it was founded by Collaborative Projects. This is a more recent meeting. The meetings aren't this big anymore. The way it's sort of set up now is the little projects or programs that are collectively run manage themselves, and there's no reason for big huge meetings if the smaller groups of people are able to address the problems. This meeting was so big because something bad happened. [Laughter] So usually, I'm lucky – I 'm the one staff person, there's about 60 volunteers running all the projects and programs we have today. I'm lucky; most of them don't like coming to meetings, they like working on their projects, so if I had my choice, it'd be that, rather than people, like, coming to meetings but not getting their work done. So usually stuff like this doesn't happen unless there's something unfortunate to address.

But this idea of trying to work together, even now we're – I think in the past ten years we've done exhibitions of just two solo artists. It's always been group shows or collaborative projects. And at some point, I think just trying to get people to successfully work together is enough of a political gesture, let alone whatever the content is they're trying to address. A lot of times we'll work with other pre-existing organizations in mounting exhibitions. This is two on a similar theme related to psychiatry, Artists Against Psychiatric Assault was a self-organized group of individuals who were fighting coercive use of anti-psychotic medication and electro-convulsive therapy. That was in 1992. In the winter of 2004, we worked with a group of individuals who have bipolar condition and they created and organization called the Icarus Project, and we put an exhibition of work together with these individuals. So we continue to do these efforts, almost always addressing social, political issues. I think the effort we just finished, along those lines, the biggest and, in scale and scope and expense, project like that, was a collaborative project among American, European, Palestinian and Israeli artists taking a stand against the wall the Israelis are constructing in Palestine, "Three Cities Against the Wall," Ramallah, Tel Aviv and New York. There were organizing committees in each of those three cities and the show was to open simultaneously in New York, Tel Aviv and Ramallah. Unfortunately Israeli customs held the artwork from New York that we'd shipped to the Palestinians, and the Palestinians were understandably uncomfortable mounting the exhibition without the mediation of the European or American artists. The work about three weeks later was released and they finally were able to exhibit it in Hebron and the West Bank. So this is that sort of impulse of working collaboratively writ large. It was a tough one and it was a brainchild of artist and activist named Seth Tobocman, who did most of the diplomatic work necessary to make it happen, basically getting everybody on the same page and, it took about four months. But we also, among the three different groups of artists and organizers in New York, Palestine and Israel, managed to write a show statement that everybody was comfortable agreeing with.

From the get-go when they got this space, I don't know how this happened, we sort of, the place ended up institutionalizing some of the, maybe the hostilities and contestation that was part of its foundings. From the get-go, as soon as they got in, I think that maybe a year later the city tried evicting them again. I got probably a milk crate and a half full of legal documents about all the efforts to evict ABC No Rio over the years. So that one I don't know, it's just like that spirit of fighting and contestation that was, the city probably felt reluctant to even give them the space to begin with, but throughout the years there were probably eight eviction attempts by the city after they agreed to give them the space. The final one began in early 1995. And we remarkably – I'll go through these fast – we remarkably ended up resolving that by the city finally offering to give us the building that at that point we'd been in for 15 years. Took a long time to actually work out that deal, but I'm hoping that that's going to close in March and we'll actually, we'll own the damned place. We'll see, we'll see how that materializes. Hopefully we won't fall back into that same sort of pattern of contestation. Be nice if we could get through this without that one more time and make it a done deal. This was obviously a lock-out, whoever was there. I wasn't there in '91 but they arrived at the door and they had been locked out, and I'm sure they just went and got the bolt-cutters and broke back in.

So our stuff now, as David mentioned, we don't have our, our archive – the archive I'd consider as being records, artifacts and art, and some of the founding members have some. There's the art and some of the larger artifacts are in storage in New Jersey. One of the board members who was also a founder, Alan Moore, has got some in his space, in his personal custody. And most of the records, like a lot of the, most of the material I showed you just now, most of the financial records, grant applications, and a lot of that sort of documentation as well as show flyers and postcards and things like that remain at No Rio. That's it, that is the No Rio archive. So consider that an invitation. Thank you.

David Platzker: So there you have it, you have your three organizations. High Performance, Godzilla, ABC No Rio. The three organizations, as you probably understand, have very different archives, and before we put out our guidelines for how to apply, you should understand, there is some good documentation out there. For High Performance, there's the magazines that exist. Some of them are fairly expensive. You can find them used online, so go for a couple hundred dollars. There’s also the book, as well, and that's great. If you're working with the organization, you'll be working with Linda and Steven, to do your oral histories. Godzilla's a bit more difficult. There's no compendium of history of the organization. There are things like the New Observations magazine that they edited, there is the catalogue from “The Curio Shop.” Both of these things are really easy to come by, five dollars, four dollars, still out there.

Margo Machida: There's also, a short essay by the art historian Alice Yang in the collection called Why Asia? that NYU Press put out. That quote about the “anarchistic lizard” was actually from that essay.

David Platzker: Right. And Julie Ault's book will cover all three organizations, but fairly briefly.

Margo Machida: Right, very briefly.

David Platzker: And finally, ABC No Rio, there is a book by Alan Moore, Steven, the title of Alan's book was?

Steven Englander: ABC No Rio Dinero

David Platzker: Which is very expensive and very hard to find, but out there in the world. Again, AS-AP is really interested in seeing you work with these organizations, primarily from the standpoint that we're interested in preserving archives. Most of the organizations that AS-AP has documented, their archives are pretty much in this state, and we're trying to set this up as a demonstration to show you how one could deal with this material and have access to the human beings that sort of form the backbone of why these organizations existed.

Margo Machida: – While we're still alive.

David Platzker: Exactly, while you're still alive. There's many organizations that literally have curbed their materials, put it on the street for recycling. Thankfully you can't curb a person, although people do pass on. And, as the Downtown Show points, people die both within the history of the organizations as well as pass, and we want to capture this information as close to the history as possible before things get faded, changed, etc. So we really hope that people take this opportunity, and again, we're putting out a substantial amount of money, and hopefully, to allow people to pursue it.

I did have a couple of general questions for the panel, but considering how much time we have left, I wonder if first there's any questions from the audience for us. Yes?

[Audience Member 1]: [inaudible]

Margo Machida: Well, you know, the problem is it actually just got collected -- as recently as a couple of months ago. And I’m hoping that through AS-AP’s efforts that, depending on how and where you publicize this, this is going to become a means. Because, you know, as it is now, this is the very first time that this information has even been gathered. As a co-founder of the organization, there are many things I’d never seen. So, I had to work with the Fales archive, and having it was invaluable. There’s a lot of material; if you are working with somebody from the organization [Godzilla] who knows something about this history, we can guide whoever it is that we’re working with. You have to create a chronology, there’s all this stuff you need to do. This points to the importance of this kind of collaboration. But it is new. How would we put the call out? This does have implications for which newsletters, which venues you make aware that you want to do this. You know that it has to be a broad net, you want to capture people from a lot of different perspectives. So the point is well taken about that.

Linda Frye Burnham: Well, I would think, especially in the case of ABC No Rio, now your archive is not housed anywhere, in any institution, is that right?

Steven Englander: Yep.

Linda Frye Burnham: This is an incredible opportunity because, there are two ways to go with an archive. You can sell it, or you can give it away. If you want to sell it, you have to have it professionally catalogued, and, there’s a lot of work and expense to that, and this project can actually do that for your stuff. Our archive was broken in two, actually. Steve and I left Los Angeles in 1993, and we left behind the archive from 1978 to 1993 at the 18th Street Arts Complex in California, and they held it there. And then the Getty came after it, and said they were interested in it, and we dickered back and forth for the longest time, and they said, well, we can't consider buying it unless you have it, catalogued and figured out and you know, all written down and assessed so that we know what the value of it is. And we just went, we sort of matched that against our mission in life, you know, which was really to just get this material in front of the public, not make money off of it, so we just said, what if we just give it to you for nothing? And they said, great! You know. So we just signed a deed and they came and took it. And, they're going to catalogue everything, and then put the catalogue up on the web so people can do their research, actually, on the internet. Not actually look at the items on the Internet, but know what's in the archive. At the moment we're boxing up another, I'd say, 25, 30 boxes of stuff that we collected once we moved to North Carolina. And so from '93 to '98, we're giving them the second half, and they're going to cart it away. But, those are two completely different efforts, trying to sell an archive and being able to give it away.

David Platzker: One frightening thing is that it's very hard to just give something away sometimes. I've had an experience with an organization where we had 30, 40 boxes worth of material and we couldn't find a taker, because it had never been categorized and never been catalogued. There was no finding aids, it was a mix of everything from, excrement to rich primary arts material. And ultimately the only place that would accept it was Archives of American Art under the agreement that they could destroy whatever they felt was destroyable. It was up to them. The other thing that I should point out is that a really great model for oral histories are the oral histories that are on the Archives of American Art website, in particular the ones that were done by Paul Cummings in the '70s, when he was interviewing pop artists, minimalist artists. Paul was very sensitive to the period. He had a great knowledge of it. So going into an oral history, it's really important to have a great sense of what the organization was all about so you can ask the questions that really probe, and you might know some of the answers beforehand, but it's always going to be interesting to be able to poke at them and see what comes back.

Margo Machida: I’ll add that another really good set [of interviews] is the stuff that Paul Karlstrom did. For instance, he did a very extensive interview with Carlos Villa, a Filipino Bay-Area artist and activist. His “Third World” Art projects [from the 1970s] were really pivotal. The West Coast equivalent of some of the things we’re talking about over here. So Carlos’s materials are also really useful. [Note: see Other Sources: An American Essay, San Francisco Art Institute, 1976.]

David Platzker: Other questions? Yes?

[Audience Member 2]: [inaudible – something about keeping records moving forward?]

Steven Englander: You mean, are we getting better at it?

[Audience Member 2]: Yes.

Steven Englander: Um, no. I think with David's help, we will be meeting with somebody from the New York Historical Archives, and I actually don't know what the appropriate methodology would be, but she's going to actually help us do this sort of preliminary assessment, and I'm presuming that in the afternoon I spend with her, she'll be able to offer some guidance on how to more easily, deal with it so that it's easier in the future. Ultimately, though, I don't think that our institution is capable of maintaining, personally, I don't think that we're capable of maintaining it. I don't know if people actually want to worry about getting the resources to do it. In my instance it's a little bit tougher because stuff is sort of spread out over a number of different individuals, and we have to get everybody on board to whichever course of action we take, and that can be challenging to get everybody lined up. In some instances, some artists might not want to give what they have about No Rio to No Rio because they see it as part of their own personal papers and archives. So, it's a little bit complicated because its diffused out. But when we meet with this archivist from New York State, hopefully she'll be able to offer us some guidance on how to manageably do it in the future with minimal effort. Because we just don't have the staff person to actually address it.

David Platzker: In addition, and you are the only staff –

Steven Englander: Correct, yeah.

David Platzker: The other major issue is that once you take possession of the building in terms of owning it, you're going to be vacating it to gut the building.

Steven Englander: True, yep.

David Platzker: So, I think that with an extremely limited staff of one, you've got bigger things to do such as gutting the building, raising the money to be able to do that, which is going to be a condition of the acquisition of the building itself. It's a real challenge for a living organization just to think about doing something about sorting your papers. And as I said, this is very typical, and you're better off than most, because your records are, what, on the third floor of the building? And more often than not they're in the basement, the last place you want to be storing anything of value.

Steven Englander: Yep.

David Platzker: Other questions? Sure.

[Audience Member 3]: [very difficult to hear] It makes me think about [...?] how documentation [...?] was so important, and I thought [...?] the process of the research [...?] and I guess I think with documentation, what is the result of [...?] I wonder how conscious you were of, you were keeping the material [...?] to make a magazine is a way of [...?] for the future, right? So I wonder how conscious you were in the process of keeping [...?] that this would actually be part of [...?]

Linda Frye Burnham: I think the only reason we kept them was we were too lazy to empty the file cabinet. So, in some cases there'll be, say, a manuscript of an article, and there'll be various versions of it with my editorial marks and stuff on 'em, just because we happened to have enough room to keep that stuff and we didn't feel like throwing it away, you know? I mean, we were talking today about the difference between – I mean, I'm still editing and stuff. We're doing it via, we're essentially doing a magazine on the Internet now, and we publish new articles all the time and I'm still editing them, but it's all by email. And of course, you know, I've kept all the emails I've ever written and ever gotten, and we have it stored on zip disks and stuff. So, there's even more documentation now. But as I was saying to David, if somebody comes and takes that stuff, takes those zip disks, I'm certainly not going to have the energy to go back through and pull out all the obscene mail and the, you know, the chit chat and the gossip and the personal defamation that goes on in email all the time, so it should be really fun to go through that.

David Platzker: As an archivist, I have to ask you, are you backing up you zip disks?

Linda Frye Burnham: Oh, yeah. We back up, we save early and often. But this is a really interesting thing right now that I would love to talk about It's a long story about the second half of High Performance, how Steve and I left the 18th Street Arts Complex and moved to North Carolina, and then they asked us to take the magazine with us because they didn't feel the could continue to support it. But, there, it was very messy. It was very ugly. And we've got all these boxes sitting ready to go to the Getty now and I have these, you know, this one red-hot box of files that is the true story of what happened, letters back and forth. We kept copies of everything, and, it's actually a correspondence with the 18th Street Arts Complex, which still exists, and we're on very friendly terms with them now, but the red-hot mail is between us and somebody who has now departed. And we don't know if we want that to be in the public, but if it isn't, if it isn't, there will never be an official record of what actually went down. [Laughs] So, I just wrote a letter to the woman at the Getty and said, what about the fact that we have all this mail back and forth, we have copies of mail that were written to us by somebody who may have absconded with funds from the organization and da-da da-da da, you know, and was never prosecuted. I said, is this our mail, do we get to give this to the Getty, is it legal? Do you know the answer?

David Platzker: If you received it, it's yours.

Linda Frye Burnham: Oh, we received it. I guess it's ours.

David Platzker: But the content of it is not necessarily yours.

Linda Frye Burnham: Oh. Well, isn't it one and the same thing?

David Platzker: No, you own the physical piece of paper, but you don't necessarily own what's on that physical piece of paper.

Linda Frye Burnham: Oh.

David Platzker: Well, the Guerilla Girls are going through a similar question. They're going to be placing their archives, and there's a dialogue going on right now about what do they do about the fact that a lot of the correspondence is in their real names.

Linda Frye Burnham: Their real names. Ooh, I hope they –

David Platzker: And my argument to them is, you can't, you can't remove that, but you can put restrictions on how it's used.

Linda Frye Burnham: Oh, you can – it can all be classified.

David Platzker: Yes. For a period of time.


Linda Frye Burnham: Highly secret, for security reasons.

[Audience Member 4]: [inaudible]

Linda Frye Burnham: Oh, you have an answer.

[Audience Member 4]: What you can do is you seal, and it is up to the person who the archive is coming from to do the sealing. The institution does not want to attack sealing certain volatile or litiga – what's the word?

Linda Frye Burnham: Litigious, yeah.

[Audience Member 4]: ...kinds of things. But what you do, is you put a time limit on it, because what it is a personal privacy. When those people die, um, in California it goes away, state by state law. And so that's what you do with correspondence like that, you know, that's liable to cause problems and things like that. You just take that box and say that can't be accessible –

Linda Frye Burnham: – To the public.

[Audience Member 4]: Exactly...and that's how you answer that question.

Linda Frye Burnham: Oh, that's great. Well, she said she was going to go talk to the lawyers and I'm sure they have plenty of them.

[Audience Member 4]: Well, I just had the question...from the Getty. I'm a curator...

Linda Frye Burnham: [Laughs] Gee, I knew I'd get an answer soon.

David Platzker: Any last questions? Comments? Complaints? Great. Thanks very much.


[End of recording]