Collections and Archives as Creative Practice

The collecting and/or archiving of objects and information has emerged as a vital creative cultural practice. This course will survey a variety of collections and archives from multiple contexts –

Artist’s Collections/Collecting Practices: Aby Warburg, Marcel Broodthaer’s “Département des Aigles,” Claes Oldenberg’s “Mouse Museum and Raygun Wing”, Gerhard Richter’s “Atlas,” and Karsten Bott’s “Archive of Contemporary History,” Walid Raad’s Atlas Group Archive, and Mark Dion.

Quasi-Institutional Cultural Archives: Prelinger Library, The Center for Land Use Interpretation, ubu, and The Musuem of Online Museums.

Vernacular Archives and Collections: blogs, flickr, consumer and fan based collections, and YouTube.

Insitutional Collections/Strategies: Natural History Museums, Art Collections, and Archives.

By surveying these disparate forms and approaches, we hope to examine their strengths, distinctions, and problems as well as bring them into critical dialog with each other. We will consider varying definitions of value and function within these contexts alongside problems of visual clarity and conceptual cohesion. The course will examine the dynamics of power and authority inherent in the practices of private and institutional collections and we will look at how alternate models might decentralize collections and create new possibilities for collective ownership and open display.

In addition to readings and presentations, field trips to a variety of types of collections and archives will be conducted. Students will be given wide latitude to either create, develop, inventory and present a collection of their own; produce an in depth critical analysis of a specific collecting practice/collection; curate a selection of collections, or develop another form of appropriate creative/critical engagement with course material.

There will be a culminating presentation of course projects in the form of an exhibition at Mess Hall. All projects assigned in the course have the potential to be a part of the exhibition, but the final projects will be the focus of the exhibition. Please keep in mind that your contribution will part of a joint effort and that it will therefore reflect on the class as a whole.

Given that we only meet once a week, it is crucial that you do not miss class. Grades will be broken down as follows. Specific details regarding the assignments can be found in the weekly summary in the syllabus and will be covered during course time as well.

Five “mini” projects (40%):
Assignment#1 – Internet Image Collection – DUE September 8th
Assignment#2 – Image Collection from Harold Washington Library – DUE September 15th
Assignment#3 – Swap-O-Rama object collection – DUE September 22nd
Assignment#4 – Documentation of found collections – DUE October 20th
Assignment#5 – Artist’s Collection analysis – DUE November3rd

Class participation (20%):

Each class member will be responsible for posting links relevant to course on the course blog (details to be discussed in class). You will also be expected to participate in class discussion of readings and projects.

Final project (40%):
Project to be displayed at Mess Hall on November 24th.

Week 1: August 25, 2008 (Marc and Randall)
Introduction to the class. Distribute syllabus, assign first readings, assign field trip to be taken on own time)

In class: Discuss each student’s experience with collecting and archiving and interests in these areas. Marc and Randall give short presentations on their own work in these areas.

Read for September 8:
Jean Baudrillard “The System of Collecting” in The System Of Objects, Verso, 1968
Kevin Melchionne “Collecting as an Art” from Philosophy and Literature – Volume 23, Number 1, April 1999
MatthiasWinzen, “Collecting – So Normal, So Paradoxical” from Deep Storage, Prestel, 1998.
Bill Brown “The Collecting Mania” from University of Chicago Magazine, 2001

Assignment#1 due September 8:
Form a collection of 15 or more different photos from the internet (use multiple sources, not just one website) and bring this collection to class to display and discuss. Be prepared to identify the theme of the collection, what order the photos should be presented in and what you hope viewers might be able to observe from this collection. Be creative and specific and challenge yourself. If the theme is something common – such as a famous person or place, try to hone on a highly particular quality that isn’t found in every photo of the subject.

Week 2: September 1, 2008 (No Class – Labor Day)

Week 3: September 8, 2008 (Randall)
Discuss readings, present photo collections assignment.

Read for September 15th:
Erving Goffman, Gender Advertisements, Introduction by Vivian Gornick. 1987 Harper Torche edition. [Review the collections of advertisements].
“Visits to the Picture Collection and a Meeting with Librarian Margarete Gross” by Marc Fischer. Download this text here:

Assignment#2 due September 15th:
Visit the Picture Collection at Harold Washington Library (a series of file cabinets on the 8th floor), form a photo clipping collection and check out 15 or more different photos (preferably not all from the same file heading) and bring the collection to class.

NOTE: You will need to get a library card in order to check out photos from the photo clipplings collection. If you don’t have one already visit so you can see what you’ll need to bring in order to get one.

Week 4: September 15, 2008 (Marc)
Discuss assignment and gives a lecture on additional image based collections and projects. Possible projects to include: Hans-Peter Feldman, Céline Duval, Craphound Magazine, Marcel Broodthaers’ Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles, Douglas Blau, and Peter Piller Archives.

Read for September 22nd:
Losing a Home, Then Losing All Out of Storage , By David Streitfeld, New York Times, May 11, 2008.
“Virtual_radiophile (163) – eBay and the Changing Collecting Practices of the U.K. Vintage Radio Community, by Rebecca M. Ellis and Anna Haywood, Everyday eBay – Culture, Collecting and Desire, Routledge, 2006

Assignment#3 due September 22nd:
Visit Swap-O-Rama on 4200 S. Ashland. Visit on either a Saturday or Sunday when both the indoor and outdoor sections are open. Most vendors will be set up by 8:30 AM and things start winding down around 4:00 PM.

Purchase and bring back objects from Swap-O-Rama that form a cohesive and coherent collection with a particular theme. You should not have to spend very much money to do this. These need not be the same type of object, but can be objects linked by, for example, their year of production, a narrative connection that makes them relate, or some other parameters of your own design. Be creative and ambitious. If you are going to bring in fewer than ten objects, pick something that is unusually specific or find various ways of tightening the parameters of the collection to show us something that might otherwise be hard to observe about this kind of object. You will present your object collections in class on September 22nd and we will discuss them.

Week 5: September 22, 2008 (Marc)
In class: discuss readings and observations from the field trip to Swap-O-Rama and the collecting assignment that accompanied it. Additional possible topics: Claes Oldenberg’s “Mouse Museum and Raygun Wing, Karsten Bott’s Archive of Contemporary History and Jim Shaw’s collection of thrift store paintings.

Read for September 29th:
“Archives in Practice” by Julie Ault, Interarchive, Walter König, 2002
“Geert Lovink talks to Tjebbe van Tijen” from Deep Storage, Prestel, 1998.

Week 6: September 29, 2008 (Marc)
Discuss readings and Marc gives a lecture on Alternative Collecting and Archiving Strategies. (Examples:, Prelinger Library, Internet Archives (, The Whole Earth Catalog, Public Collectors, International Institute of Social History (

Read/View for October 6th:
New York Times Articles
Hobbies Chapters 2 and 3

Week 7: October 6, 2008 (Randall)
Discuss readings, assign project and Randall gives a lecture/screens “Vinyl.”

Read for October 13th:
Ralph Rugoff “Collecting Napoleon’s Penis” from Circus Americanus, Verso, 1995
Hobbies Chapters 4 and 5
That Might Be Useful

Assignment#4 due October 20th:
Find and document a clearly thought out and neatly presented publicly displayed collection that is not in a museum, gallery, or other traditional cultural institution or archive. This could include a museum-like display in a retail store, a display in the back of someone’s car, on their dashboard, or on the window sill of a home that can be viewed from the street. It could include a display in an office building, at an airport, or in a school lobby. Documentation should include photographs (if permissible) or other means such as a written list describing the collection or an interview with the collector if possible. Results of this assignment will need to be posted on the class blog in time for discussion on October 20, 2008.

Week 8: October 13, 2008 (Randall)
Discuss readings and final project ideas/progress. Watch episodes of Collectors.

Week 9: October 20, 2008 (Marc and Randall)
Discuss and critique project that was assigned on October 6.

Read for October 27th:
“Annika Erikkson: Collectors”, Interarchive, Walter König, 2002
Mark Dion: Archeology excerpts, Black Dog Publishing, 1999

Week 10: October 27, 2008 (Marc)
Discuss readings, Marc gives a lecture. Possible inclusions: works by Mark Dion, Jim Shaw – Thrift Store Paintings collection and book.

Assignment#5 due November 3rd:
Write a (minimum) 500 word description and analysis of an artist’s collection project for the class blog. This could focus on one of the projects we’ve discussed in class already or something else. Consider contrasting how the artist organized and constructed their collection with a non-artist’s collecting strategies utilizing similar material. Your written piece (with images if possible) should be posted on the class blog in time for us to discuss it during class on November 3rd.

Week 11: November 3, 2008 (Marc)
Discuss assignment.

On your own time, visit the Art Institute of Chicago and visit these two sections specifically:
The Arthur Rubloff Paperweight Collection in European Decorative Arts
The Bergman Collection of Surrealist Art

Read for November 10th:
Chicago Reader | The Business: Plunder on a Pedestal : At the Art Institute’s summer show, Benin royals get a good look at the stuff they want back. By Deanna Isaacs (Read the first comment as well)
The Art Institute of Chicago – Remarkable Giving: The Bergman Collection
“A World in Three Aisles – browsing the post-digital library” by Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Harpers Magazine, May, 2007

Week 12: November 10, 2008 (Marc)
Discuss readings and your trip to the Art Institute of Chicago and we’ll compare the collecting strategies of the Art Institute and the Prelinger Library.

Week 13: November 17, 2008 (Randall) Meet at He said, She Said
Fine tune final projects. Talk with Bill Keaggy of

Week 14: November 24, 2008 (Randall) meet at Mess Hall
Display of projects at Mess Hall.

Week 15: December 1, 2008 (Marc and Randall) meet at Mess Hall
Final Class.
Critique of final projects.