Posted by: gabybarber23 | December 2, 2021

Review: Citing Memory: Reimagining Archives Through Art

On December 2nd, I decided to walk around the Williston Library and take a look at an art exhibition that is currently on display: Citing Memory: Reimagining Archives Through Art. This exhibition was created by the 5-College Advanced Art Seminar students and visiting artist Becci Davis. I am not sure when the exhibit began, though I know it was before November break, and I do not know how long it will be on display. Before the break, when the show was making its debut, I was given a program and a map in the library. I have found both of these handouts to be useful, as the art installations are spread out throughout the library – I found myself viewing them in places such as the atrium, the stairwells, and even the stacks. The program is particularly useful as it compiles the statements of each artist. 

The pedestrian nature of the exhibit reminded me of Thompson’s Street Life in London. Rather than walking through a traditional museum-style display, where everything is in a shared space dedicated to a certain purpose, I had to move around the library and into spaces with different traditional uses. Like Thompson and Smith, I could find art around any corner and in any kind of location. I think that the pair traveling through London collecting their own artistic references is similar to the way this exhibit is viewed – traveling through different nooks and crannies of the library to take in different works of art. 

According to the program for the exhibition: 

“Through the examination of letters and scrapbooks, photographs and drawings, legal documents, toys, and everything in between, this group of artists from Mount Holyoke College, Amherst College, Hampshire College, and Smith College have put together a show that looks to explore and question archives and collections on both personal and institutional levels. The artists have each created a project that asks the viewer to think about what we save, what we value, and what we try to remember through the objects we keep.” (5-College Advanced Art Seminar and Becci Davis 3)(Please forgive the formatting of this quote – it is intended to be a block quote, but I couldn’t figure out the formatting in WordPress, so I have added quotation marks)

This archival evaluation seems very relevant to our class – it reminds me of the discussion Professor Martin had with us about how and why she teaches Alice in Wonderland the way she does. By sharing her reasons for her methodology surrounding Carroll’s book, Professor Martin engaged in the work of thinking about the aforementioned themes in the context of the class syllabus as an archive. These questions that the artists explore in their work seem very similar to the question of “why do we still read XYZ author?” Of course, though our values often differed from those of the authors we read, the recognition of what we value compared to the Victorians came from reading those authors. 

The exhibit is composed of 11 different artworks by 11 different artists, though I’d like to focus on Emma Spencer’s Russell School, Hadley, Massachusetts. Spencer’s work is a 40 x 50 inch photographic piece, and according to the exhibit map, is “[l]ocated in the fourth-floor stairwell on the wall (left side)” (Williston Library, Level 4). The work is not one large photograph, but rather a collection of smaller ones, with subjects ranging from building exteriors and trees to leaves creeping through what looks like a chain link fence. In their artist statement, Spencer writes: “I want to capture this once formidable building left to be reclaimed by the Earth” (6) – I think they succeed, given the photographs where nature and building seem to collide.

Moreover, Spencer notes in their artist statement: “I hope to illuminate both the similarities and differences between living today and living in the past, and how the past built and influences our lives today” (6). Spencer seeks to do in their art what we have sought to do in our class – draw connections between past and present. 

I also think the placement of Spencer’s project is interesting. I had to stop on the staircase to view it, which felt a little destabilizing. I don’t usually like to stop on stairs because – for whatever reason – I’m afraid of losing my balance and falling over. Yet, I also think there is something poignant about the placement. The artwork stops its viewer in the transition from downstairs to upstairs, much like it seems to question the idea of an absolute transition from past to present by drawing connections between the two, by showing how they mingle. I do not know if Spencer made this choice, but if so, it is an excellent one. 

Overall, I enjoyed walking around the library to experience this exhibit. I think it touches on important themes in relation to archive, much like we have done throughout the semester. If you haven’t gotten a chance to check it out, I highly recommend doing so! There are more artworks than I have mentioned here that are also worth thinking about and viewing. 

Works Cited

Program for 5-College Advanced Art Seminar and Becci Davis’ Citing Memory: Reimagining 

Archives Through Art at the Williston Library, South Hadley, 2021. 

Spencer, Emma. “Emma Spencer.” Program for 5-College Advanced Art Seminar and Becci 

Davis’ Citing Memory: Reimagining Archives Through Art at the Williston Library, South Hadley, 2021, p. 6. 

Thomson, John and Smith, Adolphe. Street Life in London, London, Sampson Low, Marston, 

Searle & Rivington, 1877.

Williston Library, Level 4. Program for 5-College Advanced Art Seminar and Becci Davis. 2021.

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