Archives are Awesome!

June 10, 2011 · Print This Article

I spent the first part of this week in my bedroom, blinds drawn, air cranked, trying to escape the heat. I caught up on a bunch of reading, and actually finished a few books I’d been reading for so long that I feared that at any moment they might turn in to those books that just never get finished. But all of that ground to a halt when the weather changed and the temperature dropped, like what, 50 degrees? So here it is Friday, and I spent all of yesterday pissed off because it’s so cold and rainy, and there’s just more of that to come.

What are you doing during all this rain? I’ve these storms have made me too restless to either read or write so instead I’ve been frittering my time in the bosom of the interwebs. So for today’s post, I thought I’d suggest three art and media archives that are an amazing way to kill a few (dozen) hours. Think of them like giant time sponges that will suck every available minute. Maybe more like the Borg, pulling you in until it’s impossible to tell where you end and the site begins.

Europa Film Treasures houses a vast selection of historic (mostly) European films. A majority of them are shorts, which isn’t hard to understand as the films reach all the way back to the 1800s. This archive is particularly attractive for those interested in film history. There does seem to be the expectation that visitors will know exactly what they are looking for. It was a little hard to navigate, but since I had no real business there, clicking around on whatever caught my fancy worked well enough. You can search by date, director, country, sound or silent, black and white, color, hand colored. If you are doing real research, I’d definitely check this out.

Last winter I went on Chicago Detours’ Pedway tour. At each historic spot, we clustered around a handful of iPads to watch archival footage of Chicago and interviews with awesome folks from the 70s. I asked our guide where the footage came from and she said Media Burn. Turns out this site is politically minded, with a definite Chicago slant. Though not as extensive as some other sites, Media Burn: Independent Video Archive is a great place to see documentary footage. Much of the video came from the producer of the show Image Union and also Studs Terkle. It also seems like Media Burn is actively working on expanding the site to include historic documents as well.

Lastly, the grandmother of all online spoken word libraries, UbuWeb. Think of it as a digital repository of the avant-garde. Some of the cool things I’ve pried from there is Gertrude Stein reading “If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso,” Takashi Murakami’s ad for Louis Vuitton, and Joan Logue’s “30 Second Spots: TV Commercials for Artists, ” with Nam June Paik, Orlan, and Laurie Anderson among others. It even has some Gavin Bryars pieces that it took me forever to track down back in the day. To be honest, since UbuWeb has been around for so long, I’d nearly forgotten about it. But recently, I dropped by again and was stunned by the staggering video additions. The library is extensive and seems to be growing everyday. UbuWeb is not university affiliated, which I’d always assumed, but was instead started by poet Kenneth Goldsmith in 1996. UbuWeb is free and is committed to making available works that would otherwise languish, out of print, and eventually forgotten.

So here are three places to spend your time just in case it stays miserable. But if the sun comes out, go for it. Take advantage of it while you can. Winter’s just around the corner.

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