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  • Aug 20, 2016
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  • Comments Off on Curatorial essay: I really shouldn’t say: an affected archive

Corinna Morgenstern, 9 years old, Sandra Semchuk, 1976, black and white photographic print, 15cm x 18.5 cm.

The following curatorial text accompanies I really shouldn’t say: an affected archive on view September 16, 2016 to October 22, 2016. Guest Curated by Cole Thompson.

The traditional archive rarely succumbs to an emotive state. Archetypal imaginings of these spaces are composed of cold, austere rows of serialized compartments that struggle to reflect the human presence contained within them. When communities are able to access these formal, institutionalized archives, is their relationship to the stored objects proximate enough to be significant? Can objects spur emotion or trace relationships if information is incomplete, inaccessible or too distant? And when indifference yields to emotion, what new sets of possibilities and complications follow in its wake?

I really shouldn’t say: an affected archive flirts with the variety of possible outcomes produced when the archive is approached through an affectionate lens. Comprised of a series of vignette archival installations, the exhibition envisions AKA artist-run centre’s collection of archival photographs, slide images, exhibition posters, correspondence, artist multiples and more, as a network of human relations rather than a collection of objects. These relationships extend in a multitude of directions – within the organization, between organizations, to the international art world, to multidisciplinary communities, and to physical and immaterial spaces – and illustrate the variety of human traces that populate the archives of localized artist-run centres (ARCs).

My initial engagement with the archive came about largely by chance. I have always been enthusiastic about Sandra Semchuk’s artistic practice, and, as we both grew up in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, I have always felt a strong emotional attachment to particular bodies of work that feature the geographies, places and people of our mutual hometown. In the spring of 2016, I asked my grandmother, Bertha Morgenstern, if she had known Semchuk in earlier days. To my surprise, she revealed that they had been close friends in their teenage and early adult years. She then recounted an experience she had while selling tickets for Semchuk who was a contestant in the Meadow Lake Stampede’s Rodeo Queen competition. In an attempt to sell tickets for her friend, my grandmother made a pitch to members of her parents’ German-speaking club which was met by strong opposition on political grounds due to Martin Semchuk’s role as a member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation in the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan. Then, my grandmother was able to track down three photographs that had been taken by Semchuk in the mid-1970s: one of my mother, one of my uncle and great-grandmother, and one of my grandmother, great-grandmother and great-uncle. In exchange, I was able to show my grandmother several of Semchuk’s exhibition catalogues, as she had previously lost touch with her. She had no knowledge of Semchuk’s artistic career; I had no knowledge of anything outside of her artistic career.

Without reducing the exchange to pure coincidence, I began to consider the nature of this peculiar triangulation, which began with Semchuk publications in AKA artist-run centre’s library and archive, continued into the non-artistic context of my grandmother’s memory, and reached a finale with my own interaction with Semchuk regarding content of this exhibition. The ARC, with an archive embedded with local knowledge and content, seemed conducive to these types of relationships in a way that could not be so easily reproduced in larger institutional repositories. More importantly, the connections were not passive. They were meaningful and had transformative impacts akin to Bruno Latour’s description of a good actor-network theory, where “instead of simply transporting the effects without transforming them, each of the points in the text may become a new event, or the origin of a new translation.”  1.

The objects that trace this relationship are on view in I really shouldn’t say: an affected archive, illustrating the archive’s ability to extend into a multitude of communities in a meaningful way. Other inclusions in the exhibition also highlight the variety of relationships that occur within the context of ARCs. Correspondence between AKA staff, AA Bronson and Felix Partz exemplifies the relationships that local ARCs develop with large-scale, international artistic communities; promotional material from collaborations with TRIBE Inc. and artist Lori Blondeau serves as confirmation of the longstanding relationships that develop amongst different artist run centres and artists; and a re-imagination of Karen Tam’s installation On Rock Garden (2008), the first work to be exhibited in AKA’s current location, accompanied by representations of the multiple spaces AKA has inhabited highlights the strong connections to specific spaces that inevitably develop, as they provide the physical context for our interactions with both artwork and each other.

The intimate nature of the archive also provokes consideration regarding who is in a position to analyze and interpret its contents. The faces and relationships that populate the archive are conspicuous within diverse communities, and the relatively short time span over which objects have accumulated (the Shoestring Gallery, AKA’s former moniker, was established in 1971) allows these networks of individuals to be easily recognized by their contemporaries. Often reading like a family photograph album, the affected archive on view in I really shouldn’t say evades an authoritative understanding from outside, and may simply be the uninformed interpretation of a distant relative.

Written by Cole Thompson


1. Latour, Bruno. “Network: A Concept, Not a Thing Out There.” Documents of Contemporary Art:

Networks. Ed. Lars Bang Larsen. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2014


Cole Thompson is originally from Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan and has resided in Saskatoon since 2010. Entering his final year of undergraduate studies in art history and regional & urban planning at the University of Saskatchewan, he takes particular interest in conceptually-driven and socially-engaged artistic practices, and directs much of his investigation and writing towards these modes of artistic creation. Cole Thompson has been the Archives Resident at AKA artist-run centre since May 2016.


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