Naropa Magazine Spring 2014
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Art as archive

Photo: J Quazi King, taken during a presentation of somethymes grief goes for a walk at the Pratt Manhattan Library.

At the Intersection of Art & Archive

by Lisa Birman, MFA

Virginia Wagner shoot Photo: Virginia Wagner

Joyce LeeAnn (BA '09) has always been an archivist. In her essay, (re)Defining 'Archivist', she writes, "From a young age, it was clear that some things were worth saving. Some things should be kept away from little brothers' and sisters' greasy fingerprints, but always close enough to be accessible. To be used again."

The first in her family to attend college, and the recipient of a prestigious Daniels Fund Scholarship, Joyce was ready to give up school when she lost a close friend during the first week of her senior year at Hampton University. Back home in Denver, she met with two people invested in her education. Joyce was determined to focus on her writing and learn how to grieve in a healthy way, and both people insisted that she could find what she was looking for at Naropa. "I was in a really dark place when I was at Naropa but there was so much light around me that it balanced out."

Working in the Allen Ginsberg Library, especially with Naropa's treasured Archive, opened both artistic and professional doors for Joyce. In an independent study with Anne Waldman and in her thesis, Joyce explored the possibilities of the archival text—a way of using archival materials to construct a narrative. She has since earned her Masters in Library Information Science from Pratt Institute, and is currently working as a project archivist.

Joyce has already made major contributions in illuminating the intersections of art and archive. Last year, she collaborated on a project introducing people to the work of archivists and empowering Black women to take agency over preserving their own narratives. The Finding Aid was a major success. Her first step into the role of curator landed her at the prestigious Langston Hughes Auditorium in the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture—"The mecca of Black Archives," as Joyce calls it.

Joyce continued her exploration of socially engaged art through a fellowship at New York's Laudromat Project. In collaboration with other fellows, she curated the Renters Archive—a community event in which renters were encouraged to document and take agency over their narratives.

Other artistic interests include typewriter playing, something she first discovered through the musicality of typing by Boulder Creek, and a new-found love of burlesque dancing. She describes her dancing as "another way of telling narratives about myself through my body and taking agency over how I'm sharing that narrative."

Four years into her Brooklyn life, Joyce is feeling grounded. She's developing presentations based on (re)Defining 'Archivist' for the Radical Archive Conference at NYU, and a lecture for Poetry Teachers NYC (founded by Naropa alumni). She's also collaborating on new performance art events and developing her signature burlesque act.

Joyce hopes the future will see more accessibility to Naropa's Archive, but her vision for the possibilities of Naropa's outreach is bigger and more playful than that. "If only there could be some kind of Naropa handbook to give people a little version of what we do here," she muses. "Lee Worley could go out and teach people how to be mindful of the spaces behind them, that would help out a lot."

Watch Joyce's performance, featuring her typewriter playing and archival texts, at The Finding Aid. Read more of her work on her website.