Connecting Subjectivities: An interview with Be Oakley

Founded in 2015 the GenderFail Archive Project is a publishing and programming platform for projects fostering intersectional queer subjectivities. Through this innitiative Be Oakley invites artists, curators, librarians, activists, and other engaged publics to “pick a selection of titles from the GenderFail Collection” and generate new readings from the material. After a brief meeting at the New York Art Book Fair last year Emily Dunne at the ICP Library invited Oakley to collaborate on an exhibition series.

That collaboration resulted in Queering the Collection, a series of three exhibitions at the Library to present a variety of curatorial perspectives on contemporary investigations of gender through archives, libraries, and collections. Installations and public readings by The WRRQ Collective and Christopher Clary expanded upon existing contexts for the Library’s selections, but most importantly, Queering the Collection transformed the Library from an accessible repository of meaning into a malleable and responsive
vessel for contemporary modes of visual literacy.

What follows is a casual conversation with Be Oakley, completed in July 2018.

Patricia: How did you begin formulating a framework for queering an archive, and specifically the ICP Library?
Be: As a queer-focused publisher, I look for titles that expand upon queer subjectivities by focusing on the commonality of our struggles.

GenderFail is very small compared to the ICP collection and that draws attention to my archive due to the size and subject matter within GenderFail. This relationship was amplified when the sculptural displays created for the first exhibition were installed.

Be: Did you feel any shifts in the space by having the publications and sculptures on view simultaneously?

Patricia: Absolutely. It felt different to sit on a soft bubbly circular thing rather than on a chair that conditions the body to reference a classroom or an office. Having the books and the interactive sculptures together opened up the space and brought a cozy and intimate atmosphere to an institutional setting.

Be: I’m really interested in how GenderFail fosters a certain queer messiness that helps to adds a productive friction to spaces like the ICP Library.

Patricia: Among heady Semiotext(e) titles and mainstream favorites like Rebecca Solnit are playful works like Holy Bible and Colette. Also, Junk Poems, A Selection which juxtaposes actual text from SPAM emails, “hidden stories that are squeezed between the lines of penis enlargement links.” I’m interested in that juxtaposition.

Be: I heard a lot of great things about Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit. The GenderFail Archive is not an idealized collection of rare, strictly queer, or alternative texts. The way I collect is a very fluid process. Although Solnit is more mainstream than the rest of the titles in the archive, it doesn’t negate the importance of that text.

In the New Museum’s Trigger: Gender as a Weapon and a Tool catalogue, author and poet Fred Moton talked about the “Politics of the Mess,” the importance of intuitions to create new messes rather than cleaning them up. This has been important in how I formulate what the GenderFail Archive Project aims to do: create a messy intersectional collection of texts. The invited curators, including the publics that engage with the archive, are invited to create connections between texts that they have not considered to be connected.

Personally, I see a lot of connections between Junk Poems and Men Explain Things to Me. Junk mail is basically the digital equivalent to mansplaining?

Patricia: I’m indulging in that comparison for a second: junk mail and mansplaining both prevail because people tolerate them both as forms of authority, or as a  solution.

Be: And this presumed authority is in direct connection with privilege. Most junk mail is disregarded and never even opened in our inboxes. Often, I see people on social media sharing how many unread emails they have in their inbox. 99% of these emails will never be opened but sit in our inboxes as digital weight that we carry with us. In some ways, this is what I feel the connection between mansplaining and junk mail: information thrown at us without our consent.


Bar Dykes, Merril Mushroom, 2016

Patricia: Oh, I like how you said that! Speaking of connections, there has been some mainstream media discourse about the loss of lesbian bars and the public culture of queer women. Bar Dykes by Merril Mushroom—a book about the cruising culture of queer women in the 80s—contains a peek into an era where even the word lesbian wasn’t uttered. Women were “gay” and “queer” just like the guys.

Be: Bar Dykes is a really special publication edited by my friend Faythe Levine and published by the wonderful Caroline Paquita. Cisgender white gay men take up a lot of space in queer publishing. Most of the publications I have released through Genderfail have happened to be work by queer women. This wasn’t something I planned when I first started publishing, but it shows where my conceptual and aesthetic concerns are concentrated.

From Pages by Linda Simpson

Pages, Linda Simpson, 2013

Patricia: Pages by Linda Simpson is another terrific book, a slice of New York just before I moved here. How did you find that one?

Be: I picked up a copy at NYABF. I had a really incredible conversation with one of the people involved with Peradam, the publisher of Pages. Talking to other queer-focused publishers like Peradam is extremely important in fostering community among other queer publishing projects.

Patricia: I’m curious about O Syria and Inch by Inch House by House Alley by Alley. At first glance these are not queer books. How do you see them fitting into the Genderfail Archive project show? Maybe a better question is, how can we let go of what keeps us from seeing such works as queer?

Be: For GenderFail, a queer subjectivity is one that pushes against a capitalist, racist, ableist, xenophobic, transphobic, homophobic, misogynistic, and anti-environmental ideologies. The GenderFail Archive Project is not about collecting publications reflecting just the queer experience, but to connect queer experience with other forms of oppression against marginalized people.

When you just focus exclusively on the queer experience, especially if you are white, you are actively deciding to be silent on other issue that are interconnected to the queer experience. As a white non-binary queer person who often passes for cisgender, it’s paramount that my platform does not perpetuate a queer ideology that exclusively benefits white queer people like myself. When someone looks through the GenderFail Archive they are invited to flip through titles like O’Syria, or Inch by Inch House by House Alley by Alley to consider how these titles might intersect with queer subjectivities. The viewer is invited to consider how these subjectivities may be connected or why they might exist in the same archive.


Libya: Inch by Inch House by House Alley by Alley, 2017

Intersectionality by definition is messy, it takes effort and intention to work towards interconnecting our seemingly disparate struggles.

Patricia: Absolutely. Which is why your selections were so refreshing. I also loved Earth First Means Social War.  Specifically the overt declaration that “Activism is the division of labor that specializes in social change.”

Be: That publication was picked by a Richmond based activist group called the Virginia River Healers and really falls in line with their mission. The Virginia River Healers is a water rights organization that aims to restore and protect the water quality in Virginia. They have been doing a lot of work to advocate against the construction of crude-oil pipelines in Virginia. Water quality affects everyone to varying degrees, although it disproportionately affects the poor.

I recently worked with them to print some posters with information about the death of Marcus-David Peters, an unarmed black man killed in Richmond by police. The Virginia River Healers is a great example of intersectionality in action, and lately I have been thinking about alternative forms of activism that work in tandem to groups like them. Not everyone is able to perform typically understood forms of activism, such as direct action in the streets or public forms of protest that require one’s body to be physically present. The typical associations of what an activist is relies on an ableist expectation of bodies in motion. What are the forms of activism that people with non-neurotpyical and alternatively able folks perform?

Patricia: Protest is also mostly defined by folks who don’t have to worry about deportation. Increasingly, folks on visas and green cards have more reservations about public and street forms of protest but are participating in other ways.

Be: I recently came up with a phrase, Radical Softness as a Boundless Form of Resistance, to give language to these alternative forms of activism. As someone with mental and physical health issues I often find myself unable to perform these typically understood forms of activism. My main form of activism takes happens through disseminated printed object. I consider the spaces in the printed page as a form of public space by which I perform my own activist interventions.

I consider protest as a form of allyship, where privilege can be mobilized in support of those who do not have access to these public spaces. That being said, it’s important for those with privilege to be aware of the space we are taking up.

I recently saw a post on Instagram by the group RISE Indigenous that spoke to the function of protest signs as a form of self-care stating, “MAKING PROTEST SIGNS IS A FORM OF SELF-CARE THIS IS HOW WE BUILD AND EXPAND OUR OWN LANGUAGE AS A COMMUNITY TRUST YR VOICE!”. It’s powerful to think of protest signs as a form of self-care. Resistance is as much about building up our communities as it is about direct action.


Guilty Pleasures in the Age of the Problematic Fave, Liz Barr, 2015

Patricia: We need all forms, and I don’t discount what you do for one second. Liz Barr’s Guilty Pleasures in the Age of the Problematic Fave reminds me so much of another form of protest, the public role of the Feminist Killjoy as defined by Sarah Ahmed. I love that call to action: to embody the Killjoy as a form of protest and power.

Be: Yes, I totally agree. Sara Ahmed is one of my favorite writers. I have been really influenced by her texts, the A phenomenology of whiteness and Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others. I really how she talks about the way subjects are orientated towards certain objects over others. I think Liz does a really great job deconstructing these “problematic favs” by showing how we are orientated towards these cultural idols. I think Ahmed is such a good example in relationship to Barr’s work by explaining and unpacking societies orientation towards these cultural figures.

Be: I’m interested in what you felt the GenderFail Archive added to the ICP Library? Did you feel that GenderFail Archive added needed intersectionality to the ICP Library or did it highlight the works that were already in the collection?

Patricia: When I think about how intersectionality functions through photography—not alongside it, in the bumpy sidecar—I see that mode of analysis in individual titles that are present in this and other libraries, but people don’t consider them in that way. Gordon Parks comes to mind, but I would also widen that scope to include a book few people ever talk about anymore but seems relevant in the Brexit/Trump age: Ray’s a Laugh by Richard Billingham. The first print run of Ray’s a Laugh was marked by the heaviness of a problematic edit, but the visual story shows a white family marked by poverty, alcoholism, mental health, public housing, and how each of those factors added up to guarantee class oppression. Billingham’s book shows an interconnectedness of conditions that dominant white culture doesn’t ever want to own up to because it disturbs the monolithic institution of Whiteness. An unbearable stain on Whiteness…

I said all that to show how, in relation to image, I think of intersectionality as a viewing modality that is transferable but not interchangeable. So, yes GenderFail brought in significant intersectional transferrence, a looser, more immediate grouping of titles that expanded upon ICP’s holdings and invited new considerations for how our social conditions are interconnected. The installation encouraged intersectional readings across time and movements. It’s difficult to make an established library feel immediacy and urgency. The Genderfail books brought in those qualities.

Be:  Thank you for that. It’s important to find ways to be able to address the issues of poverty, mental health, and housing as how it affects both white families and families of color. In a white supremacist capitalist society, those in positions of power mobilize rural poor whites against communities of color. It’s important to find ways to interconnect how capitalism affects rural white folks while finding ways to acknowledge white privilege.

This is why I think is important for texts such as Ray’s a Laugh to be contextualized by other publications that can highlight problematic aspects of Billingham’s book to create a productive kind of friction. In the future I want to focus on programing that encourages intersectional reading practices between the GenderFail Archive and institutional collections. The GenderFail Archive has always been a socially engaged project.

I was recently at the Allied Media Conference in Detroit and picked up a shirt from the American Coalition for Palestine that said, “Palestine is a Feminist/Queer/Refugee/Racial Justice Issue.” Statements like this express through language a type of intersectionality that I strive towards.

| Leave a comment

Open letter to the Mothership – ICP Library @ 6.30pm to 8.30pm July 11, 2018


Open letter to the Mothership is an exhibition of photographs by Christine Callahan with the artist’s selection of ICP library books and objects from her personal collection.

It marks the beginning of over a year of Cosmic Photobook intervention for the ICP Library. A new series the ICP Library exhibitions, events and interventions: Old Space, New Space for 2018-2019. Watch this space as it unfolds. . .

Dear Mothership,

I have recognized and received your signals. I appreciate discovering your markings hidden in plain sight. When finding your coordinates, I unlock them with my capture device. I am thrilled to have identified a considerable amount of them in ordinary, earthly locations. These occurrences make my transcendental experiences more consequential. Your presence is felt, it helps me cope with the overwhelming greed, war and injustice that desecrates my blue planet. Please keep the illuminating signals coming. If you happen to need a feminist, queer, human artist for study or research, please feel free to take me with you. You can spot me traveling about with fellow cosmic souls, camera in hand, searching for light, color and hope.

Sincerely yours,

Christine Callahan

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Christine Callahan is an artist and native New Yorker. She earned her MFA from the International Center of Photography – Bard College and her BFA from the School of Visual Arts, New York. Her photographs have been exhibited at the Musée de l’Elysée, Switzerland, the LiShui Museum of Photography, China, Context Gallery, Northern Ireland, Tactile Bosh Gallery, Wales and Aperture Gallery, New York. Selections from her project, 58 Empress Pines Drive were published in the Aperture book, ReGeneration 2: Tomorrow’s Photographers Today. In conjunction with exhibitions, her work has been published by Thames & Hudson, the Cardiff School of Art and Design, the International Center of Photography and Curious Matter Gallery. A series of photographs from her project Edge of Happiness were published in the art journal, Tool Book. She teaches photography at the International Center of Photography and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh – online division. She writes for the contemporary photography platform LensCulture. She lives in New York City.

Christine Callahan


| Leave a comment

Queering Collections with Christopher Clary

Queering the Collection is an ongoing exhibition co-curated by Emily Dunne at the ICP Library and Be Oakley of the GenderFail Archive Project to organize a variety of curatorial perspectives in contemporary investigations of gender through archives, libraries and collections.

On March 25, 2018, Dunne and Oakley organized a Lab event at the ICP Museum in which artist Christopher Clary hosted a show-and-tell workshop with visual producers working outside of mainstream discourses. Ten artists and collectives presented works ranging from zines, various forms of printed matter, and video. Full disclosure: I was one of the presenters. For the second installment of Queering the Collection Clary was invited to organize an exhibition at the Library and host another Lab event, Emergency Readings, at the Museum on May 24, 2018. Emergency Readings paired current photography titles in the Library’s collection with literary, fine-art, and video works from contemporary artists.


Emergency Readings at the ICP Library, 2018

What follows is a conversation with Christopher Clary about Emergency Readings completed in June 2018, which has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Patricia: At the ICP Museum the other night you introduced the evening not as a reading but as a condition of emergency, so I’m curious to hear more about what you meant by that.

Chris: My mini manifesto for Emergency Readings starts with “It would be wrong to say we’re reading because of the current state of emergency. The underrepresented and underserved know this less as a state than it just is and always has been.”

I’m using ‘emergency’ here ironically — it’s pure click-bait. An alarmist tactic. A cis, white male strategy that’s, unfortunately, the norm in social and traditional media. Even cultural institutions like the New Museum give in and use titles like Trigger: Gender as a Tool and Weapon.


American Artist, Christopher Clary, Emergency Readings, May 24, 2018

When I was researching concepts of safe space for an earlier curatorial project, I was amazed at how literal and didactic language is in these spaces. What I tried to do with that project and Emergency Readings is open up the dialogue. Question existing practices that are based in fear and inherently conservative.

Patricia: The role of triggers was mentioned, briefly. But not as scaffolding for the ideas presented throughout the evening.

Chris: Interestingly, most of the artists in Emergency Readings are against trigger warnings. And these are artists/writers who are creating on and around intersectional issues. Specifically trauma. So I had to carefully consider the spaces between the artist, the art-object, and audience. I’m drawn to simple, safe space practices that don’t use trigger nomenclature.


Emergency Readings panel, ICP Museum, May 28, 2018

At ICP, the reading was intimate so I opted for an up-front content warning as opposed to a trigger warning. There is a difference. A CW is normally value-neutral in providing information about the contents of something. A TW attempts to identify what may cause panic attacks or related experiences of trauma. This is what I believe most of the artists I’ve worked with reject because it assumes the person issuing the TW knows the audience’s experience. It’s very presumptive.

After researching this for over a year, I’m disillusioned. Not that we can’t learn and use some of these safe space practices but that our online network culture is dying. I’m specifically thinking about the YouTube vlogger, Nasime Sabz and how she was characterized online.

Patricia: Sabz’s platform is consistent with how certain groups of people consume ‘emergencies’ these days: through video. Although there is a historical precedent for how ‘emergencies’ (which as you’ve hinted at, is just everyday life for a great majority) are consumed through video—from Greenpeace, to Rodney King, to Diamond Reynolds, and even very recently with the murder of a 20-year-old woman who crossed the border into Texas—video is still not viewed as credible evidence. Sabz chose YouTube as a platform and chose to critique its parameters for monetization as evidence of algorithmic control. What did you make of how Sabz was characterized online? Especially in relation to safe space making and networked culture?

Chris: I’m still processing all that happened. Not knowing of Sabz before the shooting it seems unfair of me to comment on her videos. We only know of them from second-hand sources because every platform including YouTube “terminated” her accounts. Which is where my interest lies. Social media is a corporation and we now know through leaked Facebook memos that they are willing to incite violence if it means connecting more people. So it’s not surprising that there was a YouTube shooter. It’s surprising that it was Sabz because she doesn’t look like other American shooters — cis, white, men. Because of this, her very realness, gender, race, religion, and art was called into question.


Sabz’ YouTube account suspension

I come back to the image above because it represents where we are today. The network needs to die. We, as the underrepresented and underserved, should be able to connect without relying on systems of greed and violence.

Patricia: Speaking of connections and relations, how did you go about assembling each pairing?


Emergency Readings on display in the ICP Library, 2018

Chris: It’s all about connections, new relations. An artwork is singular. Like a person. It has a voice. An aesthetic, or better yet in intersectional speak, poetics that are specific to that singularity. But it is not isolated. And that’s the beauty in pairing things. Knowing meaning can shift because of the curation and our relation to it.

In some cases, there was a clear idea to find a ICP visual equivalent to the artist text. Allison Parrish’s Our Arrival paired with Carly Steinbrunn’s The Voyage of Discovery is an example. I knew of Allison’ Twitter bot project that uses NASA photographs. Carly’s book is similar but even more dreamlike in that it feels like how I read Our Arrival.

Other pairings were more strategic, as was the case with Paul Soulellis’ book that documents how the Trump administration gutted the EPA website. We considered several books: a beautiful collection of war dissidents, Nazi propaganda, and finally a zine made after Trump was elected. Emily Dunne, the ICP Librarian, said the zine was created by Sebastian Hutchinson, a 15-year old who created it as part of the ICP Teen Academy. Pairing Paul and Sebastian was a hopeful gesture.

Patricia: What images or aspects of your selected books surprised you?

Chris: The biggest surprise for me was something that occurred at the reading. As I listened to American Artist read about Silicon Valley culture in Black Gooey Universe I heard something I didn’t hear before. Or didn’t hear something I was expecting: no one is named. Even the man who developed the graphical user interface — GUI or gooey — is just the “Founder of Augmented Research Center at SRI”. In American’s essay these technologists are nameless. We paired Black Gooey Universe with Portraits in Silicon, which explicitly names 33 white men and 1 white woman as historically important. I wonder if this is an instance where a white institution like ICP and myself as a white curator can commune with American Artists’ vision. Doing what they have chosen not to do — name names. Checking our industry, institutions, and most importantly, ourselves.

Patricia: How do you see Anouk Kruithof’s Automagic manifest trauma physically, in the construction of the series?

Chris: Automagic continually transforms images, layouts, and formats across 10 booklets. Trauma here seems somehow light, accepting, and caring in how it captures a way of being and surviving. I even love Anouk’s description that the books are without covers. Very queer. Which paired nicely with Porpentine’s Pyscho Nymph Exile. Both are future worlds that use our present debris of images and words.

Patricia: I was particularly struck by Nora Khan and felt an asymmetrical kinship with American Artist because of my previous employability in Silicon Alley here in New York. Khan identified a whole constellation of relations that threaded through the work of other presenters.


Becoming Dangerous, featuring Simulating Control by Nora Khan, ICP library, 2018

Chris: Nora is truly inspiring. When I was researching safe space in network culture I came across a precursor text that Nora wrote for the online magazine Palm Wine. In it she writes around safe space, triggers, and trauma. I say around because just as American Artist never names names, Nora never mentions safe space, triggers, or trauma in typical rhetoric. Both get at these issues much deeper. A personal, political level that’s guttural.


Nora Khan, Christopher Clary, Emergency Readings, May 24, 2018

Patricia: Allison Parrish’s Our Arrival was so very enjoyable because of how pronouns are deployed in the construction of the work. Mainstream non-queer culture is increasingly aware of what pronouns signify, and the sociocultural dominance that pronouns enforce. Structuring a novel with two main characters, I and You, represented the basics of a civilization, of connection and/or departure, of political coalition or adversity, like a basic unit of human relations, which I found a striking choice for a work that was written through code. Pronouns already seem so quaint and analogue in a world too easily enamored with AI, but Parrish extracted new meanings for these two pronouns.

Chris: The I and you of Our Arrival is a perfect analogy for pairing. Not just in a literal sense. But I and you are inseparable from their surroundings. In fact, I was more enamored with lines like “mists scrutinizing the sky” than the slippage of pronouns.

Allison’s preface that explains the algorithm is fascinating. Her selection of natural world sentences and reversal of subject noun phrases is genius. Similar to Porpentine and Anouk, Allison is imagining a new world. Not just the subject and narrative but the actual writing of it. Her code is available on GitHub so anyone including Allison can run the algorithm and generate a new Our Arrival.

And that’s so good in how it screws with my idea of singularity. What is the art-object? The code? The PDF that Allison published as Our Arrival? Or someone else’s later version? Does it matter? It matters that we have ideas and because of shows like Emergency Readings I can change my mind.


Pairings for Emergency Readings in the ICP library, 2018

| 1 Comment

Corporal Capa’s Picture of the Week

Happy Memorial Day!

In 1944 and 1945, Cornell Capa was posted at Mitchel Field Air Force base, located in Nassau, Long Island. While processing Cornell’s personal papers, we came across a collection of news clippings which included photographs (both credited and un-credited) taken by Cornell Capa, illustrating the daily lives of air force personnel stationed at Mitchel Field.


Capa, in uniform posing with a camera, Ca. 1944/1945

The majority of the clippings were from the Mitchel Field Airbase’s local newspaper: The Beacon, Mitchel Field: “Published in the interest of personnel at Mitchel Field.” The collection also contained an assortment of clippings from other local New York papers featuring stories and photographs of the Airbase at Mitchel Field.


L-R: First Airforce Airmen, [unidentified Private First Class], Corporal Cornell Capa, [unidentified Sargent], ca. 1944/1945

The Mitchel Field Airbase was activated as 1 AF, December 18, 1940, as one of the four original numbered air forces. It became re-designated at First Air Force on April 9, 1941, with the mission to defend the Great Lake regions. By 1944, most of the concerns of the First Air Force was training replacement units for overseas combat. By late 1944-1945 the original four Air Force Units were placed under the command of the Continental Air Forces.

Many of the images in these clippings are completely uncredited or list the photographer as “FAF Photo” or “Official First AAF Photo.” They contain images of the daily life of the personnel and airmen of the base, as well as dozens of photographs of the Airforce football teams: “The Giants” and “The Aces.”


[possibly Cornell Capa,] Air Force Aces Football team, 1944/1945

We cannot definitively say that these images were made by Capa, however, there are a number of clues that point in that direction. Consider these three facts:

  1. The intentional nature of their clipping.
  2. They are the oldest preserved news clippings from the Cornell Capa Papers collection.
  3. Mixed with these clippings are images with a written credit to “Cpl Cornell Capa.”



Picture of the Week: Ice and Snow, Cpl Cornell Capa, ca. 1944/1945



Picture of the Week: Striking the Gong, Cpl Cornell Capa, ca. 1944/1945


Picture of the Week, Sgt Cornell Capa, ca. 1944/1945

If you notice, Cornell was promoted to Sargent in his credits!

Posted in archival collections, Cornell Capa Papers, ICP Archives | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

OMG, Bring a Book! The Library Goes to Critical Jamming

ICP Museum 2018

a plethora of books brought from the Library for the occasion, photo by Cathy de la Cruz

Yours truly and ICP Head Librarian and Archivist Matthew Carson participated in the recent panel From X-Files to The Matrix: Reality Disintegrated, held on Sunday, March 4 at the ICP Museum.

In the words of organizer Claudine Boeglin:

The 90s. It was an era of hope bracketed between the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) and the fall of the two World Trade Center towers (2001). New aspirations of politics, technology, and culture gradually vanished, prefigured by the dark conspiracy theories of The X-Files and The Matrix, where the known world is an illusion.

In an active roundtable, moderators and speakers will introduce different angles and stories around the theme of reality disintegrated. Through references to pop culture, counterculture, and activism, they will rebuild the zeitgeist of an era in an oblique, improvisatory fashion. This conversation will offer a post-modern magnifying glass in which to reflect upon the times we live in. In an effort to activate this exchange, the audience will be invited to participate through responses, comments, and suggestions.


  • Matthew Carson, ICP Head Librarian and Archivist
  • Bernard Yenelouis, Artist, writer, library staff, ICP


  • Aron Morel, London-based indie publisher
  • Janette Beckman, photographer
  • Nick Waplington, artist and photographer
  • Cathy de la Cruz, writer and member of the riot grrrl movement and Sister Spit
  • Avram Finkelstein, artist, writer, and activist
  • Carlo McCormick, senior editor of Paper
  • Guy Martin, photographer

Given the unstructured approach to the afternoon, the moniker “moderator” is best understood as a placeholder at best in terms of our participation. There were multiple layers of conversations, the highlight for me being a critical presentation by Avram Finkelstein, discussing images in relation to propaganda, capitalism, and colonialism.

Avram Finkelstein ICP Museum 2018

Avram Finkelstein, photo by Bernard Yenelouis

I had neither hope or inclination to “rebuild the zeitgeist” of this specific era, except as a method to understand present times.  The notion of such an action brings me back to Walter Benjamin’s Theses on the Concept of History (1940).

The ninth thesis reads:

A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage.

I will also pull these fragments from the seventh thesis:

once one asks the question, with whom does the historical writer of historicism actually empathize. The answer is irrefutably with the victor. Those who currently rule are however the heirs of all those who have ever been victorious. Empathy with the victors thus comes to benefit the current rulers every time. This says quite enough to the historical materialist. Whoever until this day emerges victorious, marches in the triumphal procession in which today’s rulers tread over those who are sprawled underfoot. The spoils are, as was ever the case, carried along in the triumphal procession. They are known as the cultural heritage. In the historical materialist they have to reckon with a distanced observer. For what he surveys as the cultural heritage is part and parcel of a lineage [Abkunft: descent] which he cannot contemplate without horror. It owes its existence not only to the toil of the great geniuses, who created it, but also to the nameless drudgery of its contemporaries. There has never been a document of culture, which is not simultaneously one of barbarism. And just as it is itself not free from barbarism, neither is it free from the process of transmission, in which it falls from one set of hands into another. The historical materialist thus moves as far away from this as measurably possible. He regards it as his task to brush history against the grain.

And the eighth thesis:

The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “emergency situation” in which we live is the rule. We must arrive at a concept of history which corresponds to this. Then it will become clear that the task before us is the introduction of a real state of emergency.


Paul Klee, Angelus Novus, 1920, formerly owned by Walter Benjamin, collection of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem

The melancholic, “negative” aspects to Benjamin’s theses remind me of a comment I heard by the historian Iain Boal, at an academic conference on anarchism at Cornell University,  that negativity is important to sustain in the positivist world we live in.

How can we deconstruct the ability of photography (and all subsequent image-based media) to support and sustain this veil of positivist illusion of reality and its uses as propaganda and advertisement?

For Finkelstein there are only principles of propaganda and advertising at work, echoing constant political tensions underlying mass media in relation to, and as examples of forms of power. For the younger participants, 1990s photobooks were a physical link to an analog childhood that has vivid retrospective lines and colors in contradistinction to the abstractions of virtuality that have colonized our sense of the everyday.

The photograph informs us of what we want and how we want it. How can we disturb the neat sequences of the picture press, which make disasters appear temporal, recognizable in simple strokes, and as unimportant as any commodity? Where happiness  needs to be a thing seen and owned? Where vision is equated with possession? Does it have to be like that?

Looking at the books pulled from the shelves one can see that publishing had a different tenor to it. Given ICP’s long ties to documentary and photojournalism one can see an emphasis on these forms, while practitioners were shifting from magazine assignments to books, exhibitions and other forms associated with the art world. That shift is even more extreme now. Fashion was also moving to a similarly curated sphere. Among the books we could not locate which we would deem as important to this time period were Wolfgang Tillmans’ first book from Taschen and Nan Goldin’s The Other Side. And the library does not own a copy of Zoe Leonard’s  The Fae Richards Archive. We all agreed that there were not enough women or races represented in this snapshot view. By the same token, the erratic selection is not meant to be a shopping list either, but a consideration of possible tools for looking backwards.

Another aspect to keep in mind is that these books were acquired when ICP was still located uptown in the former Willard Straight house, where the library was a small room filled with books and there was no catalog of its holdings or a trained librarian. Books were acquired sporadically, most often when requested directly for a class. With such constraints in place a library could still evolve and emerge.


Slavoj Zizek in The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (dir. Sophie Fiennes, 2012)

The 1990s revisited – books from the library brought to Critical Jamming:

Nobuyoshi Araki, Sentimental Journey  TR654.A73 1991

David Armstrong, The Silver Cord  TR680.A75 1997

David Armstrong & Nan Goldin, A Double Life  TR680.G65 1994

Richard Billingham, Ray’s A Laugh  TR681.F28.B55 1996

The Boston School (ICA)  TR680.B67 1995

Sophie Calle, Double Game  TR179.5.C35 1999

Larry Clark, The Perfect Childhood  TR681.Y6.C53 1995

Contemporary German Photography (Taschen)  TR646.G3 C66 1997

Douglas Crimp & Adam Rolston, AIDS DemoGraphics  TR820.C75 1990

Corinne Day, Diary  TR820.5.G7.D39 2000

William Eggleston, Ancient and Modern   TR647.E27 1992

Jim Goldberg, Raised by Wolves  TR820.5.U6.G55 1995

Paul Gorman, The Story of The Face  TR146.G676 2017

Paul Graham, End of an Age  TR680.G73 1999

Paul Graham, Empty Heaven  TR647.G73 1995

Eikoh Hosoe, Meta  TR647.467 1991

Will McBride, Coming of Age  TR681.B6.M37 1994

Boris Mikhailov, Case History  TR820.5.U38. M53 1999

Mark Morrisroe, Mark Morrisroe  TR676.M67 1999

James Nachtwey, Inferno  TR820.6.N33 1999

Camilla Nickerson & Neville Wakefield, Fashion  TR679.F37 1998

Gabriel Orozco, Gabriel Orozco  TR140.076 2000 & TR140.078 2000

Martin Parr, The Cost of Living  TR820.5.G7.P37 1989

Gilles Peress, Telex Iran  TR820.5.I7.P47 1983

Jack Pierson, All of a Sudden  TR654.P54 1995

Jack Pierson, The Lonely Life  TR654.P54 1997

Eugene Richards, Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue  TR681.D7.R53 1994

Gerhard Richter, Atlas  TR647.R53 1997

Joseph Rodriguez, East Side Stories  TR820.5.R63 1998

Joseph Rodriguez, Spanish Harlem  TR820.R641 1994

Martha Rosler, If You Lived Here  TR187.R67 1999

Cindy Sherman, The Complete Untitled Film Stills  TR681.W6.554 2003

Stephen Shore, American Surfaces  TR647.S36 1999

Larry Sultan, Pictures from Home  TR681.F28.S85 1992

Nick Waplington, Living Room  TR681.F28.W36 1991

Nick Waplington, The Wedding  TR819.W36 1996

Brian Weil, Every 17 Seconds  TR820.W45 1992

Carrie Mae Weems, The Louisiana Project  TR647.W44 2004

David Wojnarowicz, Brush Fires  TR140.W65 1994

David Wojnarowicz, Tongues of Flame  TR647.W65 1992


Posted in archival collections, artists' books, Book events, collections, color photography, critical theory, deconstruction, ICP Library, memory, nostalgia, parataxis, publishing, queer, self-publishing, Slavoj Zizek, Unpacking the collection, Visual Research, Walter Benjamin | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

100th Anniversary of Cornell Capa

Today marks the 100th birthday of ICP’s founder, Cornell Capa. Many of the books that built the foundation of the ICP library came from the man himself. Many are inscribed with notes, and stickers from his personal library. Even Edie Capa, Cornell’s wife has books that have been accessioned into the collection.


One of the highlights of these books is Cornell’s copy of The Decisive Moment, which is inscribed:

“Cornell please tell me: what is THE DECISIVE MOMENT in a Magnum meeting? (guess my answer) Avec toute mon amitié Henri”



Another treat, is noticing Capa’s book plates that he pasted in many of his books as well as this copy of The Decisive Moment. We cannot help but remember his adventurous spirit represented by the ship travailing the open oceans, engraved on his library plate.2018-04-10-0004

Check out some of our posts of gems found about Cornell and his work here and some other books from Cornell’s library here.

Posted in ICP Library, Unpacking the collection | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The WRRQ Collective: A Sensibility


This spring, the ICP Library launched a collaborative exhibition series co-curated with Be Oakley of the GenderFail Archive. In addition to organizing a variety of curatorial perspectives to investigate gender through archives, Oakley invited participating artists Hallie McNeill, Evan Galbicka, and Colin Klockner to reimagine how printed media can experienced experienced in mobile reading rooms. Each artist has produced a sculptural display: McNeill’s Untitled book stand is functionally minimal and requires us to be at multiple heights to view its books; Galbicka’s GenderFail Archive Seat are resin sculptures that double as floor seating and shelving; Klockner’s Forum is an architectural model showing the most common form for how architecture has assembled bodies in search of information.


Evan Galbika, GenderFail Archive Seat. Installation view at ICP Library, 2018.

For the first installment of the series, Oakley assembled a selection of books and printed ephemera from the GenderFail collection as well as the ICP Library’s holdings. Four members of the WRRQ Collective arranged the first installment for the library windows: Darnell Davis, Pheral Lamb, Marcela Ossio, Quito Ziegler. What follows is a casual conversation with three members of WRRQ, completed in March 2018.

Patricia Silva: Quito, will you introduce the WRRQ Collective and how it functions as a group?

Quito Ziegler: WRRQ is an intergenerational network of queer/trans artists, cooks and activists. We came together through an annual summer retreat, now in its 6th year, linking queer artists with young people dealing with homelessness and transience. We have grown into a year-round family and our WRRQ continually evolves as a creative response to community needs. Depending on the project, there are 5 to 50 collective members working together.

All of us understand that our liberation is interconnected, and WRRQ hard to relate to each other across our differences. We make art for visual resistance and collective healing, including visual art, poetry, music, drag, video and culinary arts. We also take care of each other and our people by organizing community dinners, clothing swaps, vigils and street actions.


Patricia: How did the selections for the ICP Library window come about, for each of you? Quito mentioned earlier that you all worked intuitively, so how was that process?

Marcela Ossio: We initially looked through books and zines and came up with a variety of images that we liked. We then gathered the images together and came up with connecting themes.

Darnell Davis: We wanted positivity, an escape from the sad news of the world like a sigh of relief or a breath of fresh air. We just looked around and found things that made us happy and evoked that feeling of freedom and resistance that called out to us. I literally turned my mind off for a bit and just picked out images that sparked a positive feeling within me. Whether it was a beautiful brown face, a powerful uplifting image, maybe an image that was a little out there and sexually liberating, and even vibrant colors that put a smile on my face.


There wasn’t much talking which can be oddly surprising but, I guess that is due to the fact of us being a family of queers knowing each other well enough. When we all were smiling we knew we were doing the job we came to do which was to have these visuals become eye-catchers and lure people in to see the queer archive on display and not hiding or being on one row of a bookshelf. We created what we embody as a collective of diverse people with the commonality of being queer.

Patricia: Is this the first time that WRRQ Collective has done a ‘queering the archive’ type of project?

Quito: Kristen P. Lovell and I, two of the co-founders of WRRQ, have both been obsessed with queering archives for years. Kristen has produced at least four “Trans in Media” videos that show how black trans people are portrayed in the media versus how they portray themselves. My long-term search for images of nonbinary people and grappling with our historical invisibility made its way onto ICP’s walls last year in the Gender section of Perpetual Revolution, among other curatorial projects.

As trans movements grew and our stories became more known, Kristen and I have both starting moving away from strictly historic work, and are both into producing original films that put images of trans people we can relate to into the world.

Patricia: What does queering an archive mean to you, Marcela and Darnell?

Marcela: Showing different aspects of queer expression and community through a variety of artistic mediums.

Darnell: To me, it means putting queer books to the forefront like bolden texts making articles easier to find and harder to miss. I really enjoyed working with my collective family in making queer materials easier to find and out there for others to enjoy. One thing that always upsets me is to walk into a library and the queer section is either hard to find, one row on a bookshelf (ok, in some places it’s two rows), or non-existent.


Patricia: What sparked individual interest in the images that you chose and wanted to arrange for the windows?

Darnell: Happiness, Vibrant and Saturated Colors, Positive Message, Sexual Liberation, Beautiful Brown People, Strength, Power, Resistance. I chose images that I felt as human beings we need to acknowledge that we live in a diverse world where all shades and backgrounds of people exist. Our images need to reflect that diversity especially within a queer archive. I felt it was my duty to inject black and brown faces in there to dismantle the idea of the word queer and having the first thing in your head [for an image of queerness] be a white person. Instead I want the first thing to be seen with the relation to the word queer is an abundance of flowers. Not just one flower, but a whole field of wildflowers.

Marcela: The selections I made were works that popped out at me that were either by people of color or displayed the strength, power and beauty of people of color.

Patricia: How did you think of approaching this queer archiving project, knowing what our current political climate is?

Quito: The week before we curated our windows, a #MeToo moment happened in our lives, and I initially wanted to use the windows to rage against patriarchy and create space for others to air out their feelings. When we actually sat down to dream together, Darnell and Marcela convinced me that rage was not as fierce as love, and we’d do better by displaying positive images of strength.

Marcela: That was the initial idea, to do a Graveyard for the Patriarchy. I believe that with everything that’s been going on lately, it would be better to do something that would showcase works of art that are more positive rather than further giving a platform to negativity.

Darnell: When we were discussing how we felt about “throwing” books into the graveyard, things began to feel a bit depressing for me. I internally felt like this was another way of burning books and I did not feel like that was something I wanted to be apart of. So instead Marcela voiced what I was internally thinking and we all agreed that we should shift the vision from the graveyard and into focusing more on positive and self-affirming imagery. I thought it was especially necessary during a time where our country’s stance in the world is so depressing.

Patricia: Your arrangements are organized according to a sensibility rather than media-specific visual forms. I see this as a reflection of the WRRQ Collective’s own energy, and what holds you all to each other, do you agree?

Darnell: We are all a great mix of people with different backgrounds and talents merging together. Everything we do is a form of mixed media so you are right about that one. Our visuals are like wild ponies in a field of wildflowers!

Patricia: Love it!

Marcela: I would say that it is close to a reflection of the WRRQ collective because of the diversity of the images we chose, and how they came together so well to describe different ideas we were trying to display.

Patricia: From what you were drawn to in the ICP Library, what was most enjoyable to discover?

Darnell: The Black Panther and Flower Power photo book and the James Unsworth zine. It’s funny because when I came across the James Unsworth zine, I actually found him on Instagram and messaged him. James responded and told me about his new zines coming out soon and and now I’m a fan!

Marcela: I really liked discovering a lot of the work we displayed. These works are things I hadn’t come across before and it was very empowering.

| 1 Comment