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Autonomy Lab


CRAFTED addresses the intangible craft knowledge of analogue audiovisual production (AAP). The main tenets of this research have been to identify what this knowledge is and, along with analogue audiovisual makers and artists, figure out a relevant archival practice to preserve, teach, and regenerate this knowledge. The project was housed at Sound & Vision with lead researcher Whitney Stark, supervisor Prof. Alec Badenoch (VU University Amsterdam), and independent co-researcher Katía Truijen, under the guidance of Johan Oomen and Phuocie Le (both at Sound & Vision).

Central questions to CRAFTED are: What is meant by the intangible, tacit, craft knowledge of AAP? Is it the manual skills of splicing film, how boom operators stay out of a shot, how a recording studio is set up for optimized workflow, the rhythm of interviewing? Is it the socio-political practices created making so-called ‘amateur’ productions speaking to societal disenfranchisement? We questioned how we could presume to separate the craft practices that were developed and decisions made from the socio-political spaces in and positionings from which they were created, or the purposes for which they were behaved. If the goal of creating a piece and implementing particular arts practices is not only to achieve a certain technical effect (as we suspected, and confirmed, is frequent in artistic, community, and social justice oriented media production), then what else could be considered this tacit, craft knowledge? How can we relevantly prioritize, document, archive, pass on, and reinvigorate intangible knowledge—of experiences, processes, peoples, and work—that goes beyond a single discipline or material object; something like movement, or a flow within movements?

Informed by artistic research practices and archival theory, we brought together makers, artists, and thinkers for small ‘co-creation workshops’ to address these questions. Each workshop used a tailored combination of exercises, artistic research interventions, general discussion, and experimental media archeology with makers’ input in mind. We made transcripts of the workshops and got feedback on our initial findings from all participants before moving forward. We learned along the way, sometimes being able to adapt and sometimes only later thinking of what could be important in further research. It was nonlinear and thus a bit confronting, but it also encouraged us to be adaptable as we moved. Something we later learned is an important defining characteristic of analogue production.

Workshops and Findings

For feasibility, we focused on AAP-oriented makers based in the Netherlands, where we are, and organized the workshops in groups:

Importantly, we learned that tacit AAP knowledge covers a wide array of topics, including knowledge of equipment, hand movements, sensorial recognitions, ways of developing equipment sharing or recycling, navigating socio-material conditions) and is context-dependent. When addressing how to archive this knowledge, these AAP makers want an archival practice that integrates hands-on work with materials and is created by and with those whose work, objects, and experiences are being archived.

In W1, the Media Studies students had barely used analogue audiovisual devices. They recorded Super 8 films in groups. We wanted to know what surprised and intrigued these new-to-analogue users. By learning this, we identify characteristics unique to analogue, and some of the inherent knowledge needed for its operation. The students remarked on the weight of the equipment, the tactility of buttons and the aesthetics of the cameras’ leather cases. Especially interesting was what they didn’t think to ask: How long can you record on a Super 8 reel? The amount of time you have to record serves as an important, if not the most basic, parameter in which you make your other craft and artistic choices. In the ‘replacement’ of AAP with digital, in which storage and recording time becomes increasingly limitless, this is a conditional and unique artistic materiality of AAP. But it would be a disservice to say that the knowledge of this finding is simply knowing the lengths of different tapes. It is more so the practices, ideas, and movements that emerge with that being the context and parameter for crafting. In order to best understand the crafting practices and work that have emerged, been developed, refined, and used artistically in AAP, it is important to recognize how something like the knowledge of the length of tape, or the length being the conditions in which you create, is part of craft development itself.

Below, we summarize some of the main findings of W2 and W3.

Access, Sharing, and Context

Brought up first in many discussions, is access. You cannot make or practice AAP, nor develop or learn craft practices if you do not have access to equipment, to material to record on, to knowledge of how to operate equipment, to the ability to maintain AAP equipment that often falters, to time in which to produce, or to purchase archival materials usage. Considering the economic and institutional aspects, sociopolitical power and the distribution of oppression affect who has and how people have access to these media. Important for all the AAP makers were the networks of sharing and educating that they have been a part of creating or accessing. This prevalence shows that the craft of developing cooperative sharing networks is characteristic of AAP itself. Creating sharing networks is not easy nor intuitive. It requires learning and crafting practices, and figuring out embodied epistemologies and strategies that reflect their larger goals. Doing this helps better ensure they are accessible and useful in their contexts. For the makers, differences in strategies and practices of those involved are entwined with how they have built and operated their resource sharing networks. Not surprisingly, these networks are context dependent but have similarities. They fundamentally rely upon principles of resource redistribution.

As the makers explained through their own production stories, the craft and artistic decisions they made within a piece are entangled with the decisions they made and practices they developed so as to make that piece. In other words, the material (socio-political) realities, conditions, and urgencies in which makers come up with ideas, operate their equipment, decide upon practices, access media or funding, etc. are inextricable from and provide the parameters for how they practice, and what those practices mean and communicate artistically in their work. The needs of the pieces and the movements from which they come influence and create their style choices, and stoke creativity. They discussed these factors as complicated and sometimes limiting, especially barriers they faced when making work about and from the experiences of racially marginalized people. It is important to recognize this because it is not just practices themselves that are the craft, the medium, the art. A craft practice can mean and perform very different things depending on how it is used and situated. To treat the practice superficially would not communicate how and why it was crafted, how to use the craft practice, nor the impact or conceptual and historical importance in the development of AAP craft. For many makers, this is a much more important and complicated craft than the physical, hand practices that went into making their AAP work. Without recognizing and approaching the contexts, a wealth of knowledge and approaches remains unrecognized and further marginalized in our Histories, understandings, and in the possibilities of AAP. The makers shared remarkable stories and strategies.

Technological, Sensorial, Adaptive

Technological and sensorial aspects of AAP came up: operation practices, knowledge of brands qualities, lengths of a tape, sizes of machines, how light passes through different film camera lenses, the sssing sound of a tape, working in the dark, smells of chemicals, projectors heating, feel of emulsion on film, the presence of monitoring sound levels in real time, the weight and possibilities of equipment transportation, and the feeling of legitimacy when you carry large equipment. Importantly, with AAP tech you have the ability to open the hardware up to fix, learn from, or alter their workings and develop processes unique to your practice, something seen as more difficult with digital audiovisual soft/hardware. The W3 artists discussed how the tactical process is an emotional, sculptural process. For them, the immersive, experiential aspects of AAP arts are integral to what the art is itself, and how audiences relate to and remember it. Almost all of the makers noted how experiential knowledges and understanding require transmission through experience. This is important when thinking about how to relevantly transmit this tacit and embodied knowledge.

Integral for many of the AAP makers is that it is an embodied process that requires continuous adaptation. AAP, without digital intervention, has limited post-production capabilities (e.g. adjusting lighting or audio interference). Even with planning (conducting pre interviews, practicing with equipment, doing chemical tests with emulsion and development) you cannot always anticipate the outcome (people don’t phrase things the same, your emulsion can lift), and corrective interventions are costly if even possible. This intra-active aspect of AAP ensures a kind of presence and agency of both those making the media and of the materials. Adaptation and acceptance, a kind of cooperation, is part of AAP craft.

This intra-agential relationship can also be recognized in how each use of AAP media leaves its own imprints. The physical material changes over time, projectors leave marks, film gets scratched, they deteriorate; this creates a uniqueness and signature to the physical material of each piece, a sort of embodied performativity of the work in its continual becoming. In tandem and experientially, each screening/event is phenomenologically unique (in who is present, the state of the material, the space, the time), a coming together of many factors that will not be exactly reproduced again but which leave imprints on the film physically, the art as a piece, the people in their reception and intra-action with it and the experience.

This is another way of recognizing what was heavily emphasized by the makers: context influences, or is inextricable from the work, how it is made, what craft practices are decided upon or developed, and to understanding in a practice like archiving.

Archival Desires

We are working toward an archival structure for hosting and nourishing this knowledge. Here are some of the insights from W2 and W3.

Active, Lively, and Accessible

Important to all makers is that the archival practice be active, lively, and financially and socially accessible. The archived materials should serve as an educational form of preservation, but also as a basis for creating. An archive of AAP craft knowledge should include AAP educational programming in which people experience embodied/hands-on learning with equipment. We questioned what preservation means when you are preserving something that is a tool or AAP art piece: Is it preservation to keep it inoperable but to minimize any deterioration that comes with use? Or would it be preservation to ensure it can be used for its operational purposes, even if that means replacing parts, handling pieces, etc.? They called it an archive of technique, not about outcomes. Femke talked about remixing, Janilda said editing as a form of re-creation. It is a form of movement.

Polyvocality, Center Insider Knowledge

Andre called what we are getting at an archive of a series of relations. Since, as we have learned, conditions are inextricable from the choices made in AAP, the materials and tools themselves, the crafts developed, the material styles and practices and what gets said on tape, the concepts of art pieces, it is important to many that the practice address and integrate how people have crafted their voices and styles, shared and created processes, the motivations and parameters of the times and how those relate to what the pieces did, performed, and enabled in the AAP field, artistically, and socio-politically. Most asked after an archive of many archival practices, one that changes and adapts, that allows remixing. For this and any ethical archival practice, as makers remarked, insider knowledge must be centered and polyvocality integrated structurally. This relates to a larger politics of the power of definition, and how it has been and continues to be unevenly distributed and removed from those marginalized.

Often if not well funded or ‘professionalized’, projects and practices are considered of little value in archival and Historicizing practices. However it is relevant to note that ‘amateur’ audiovisual material is some of the only material made by and depicting marginalized groups ethically. In Mirella’s research, she came to the stark realization that much of the collected analogue material depicting Black women is eugenicist ‘scientific’ material from a euro/white perspective which objectifies, degrades, and exotifies. Without recognizing and approaching the contexts in which this exclusion comes to be common, a wealth of knowledge and approaches remains unrecognized and further marginalized in our histories, understandings, and in the possibilities of AAP. Anti-racist work teaches us that effective change does not just mean representing more underrepresented people within archival content, or simply doing an oral history project, but creating structures that reflect the multiplicity of epistemologies and practices of the movements, ideas, projects, tools, and people being archived. Achieving something like this would require institutionally adopting long-term initiatives in which people/makers being represented have compensated creative decision making power, and that would ensure that these memories, materials, and stories would be safe, respected, and well cared for. Something to be addressed in further research is where material and archival practices we are asking after should be situated, and how its governing structure and participation relates to existing archives.

Conclusions and Outlook

Through an interdisciplinary and workshop-based approach, we have learned that the tacit, craft knowledge of AAP has a wide scope. The ways in which AAP craft practices are developed and utilized is informed by context and positioning. Thus an archival practice that can communicate and invigorate this knowledge must feature a structurally polyvocal approach that institutionally centers insider knowledge, contextualizes work, is hands-on, and more lively than nostalgic. I, my colleagues, and the co-creators have practical suggestions for an archival structure that can be developed, some suggestions include interdisciplinary web spaces, community keywording sessions, hands-on educational workshops, interviewing AAP makers about their practices, and partnerships with artists. It is relevant to note that the participating AAP makers expressed interest in and hope for this project continuing and this potential archival practice to be formed. Taking an interdisciplinary and critical approach to this kind of knowledge can allow us to recognize a wider range of practices and strategies as craft heritage, and allow for better representation and participation in archives.

Check out the ACKnowledge:CRAFTED page and a blog entry by Whitney about the research

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