CoCA Blog

Intern Greta Rainbow Recounts Her Summer as a CoCA Archivist

Posted by caroline on August 20, 2016

Greta at the archives.jpg
Greta hard at work in the CoCA Archives in Greenwood.

In May I struggled to answer the "How are you going to spend your summer" question concisely and satisfactorily, fumbling in the grocery store or some other appropriate setting for back-from-college run-ins. 'I'm interning for the CoCA Archives,' I'd reply, but I did not know would it would entail, what I would be doing among the file cabinets two afternoons a week. In August I struggle to answer the 'How did you spend your summer' question concisely and satisfactorily. Standing in the cereal aisle, it feels like a lot to say 'I am helping CoCA preserve its history as an organization, the history of contemporary art in Seattle, the history of contemporary art, and the history of this city'. But that's exactly the truth.

Much of my job as an intern for the CoCA Archives Project, under Project Director Anna Hurwitz and Lead Archivist Joel Irving, involved sorting, inventorying, labeling. This hands-on interaction with 35 years of ephemera both exposed me to singular, interesting artifacts as well as the patterns, the booms and declines, and the switchpoints along the path of CoCA. One of my favorite posters (of the 118 we inventoried) is a scanned sketch of a woman wearing a bob cut and female gender symbol earrings above the text, "Cleopatra is pro-choice!". The fine print told me it was created by Karen Finley in collaboration with San Francisco Artspace, with no date. I wonder what CoCA's involvement was with the artist and the California organization? What were the factors that contributed to the poster's existence in our archive today, that allowed me to fold it into the collection? Although I am now more able to answer questions like these, I end my time at the Archives with unsolved mysteries: airmail poetry addressed to CoCA, unlabeled slide images of unrecognizable gallery spaces. Unlabeled: never again will I forget to date my work, from diary entries to to-do lists. And maybe I will add some of the metadata descriptors (to search by artist or by title or by year, and so on) Joel showed me, for good measure.

Aside from a greater proclivity for organization, my approach to projects has shifted. New philosophy: there is always more that can be done. I have recently spent time in the rabbit hole of Wikipedia, creating a page on CoCA. One of the constant reminders to Wikipedia editors is the idea of continual progress. There is always room for more detail, for another cited source, for another external link. While updating the digital Archives inventory, I changed "Chunk" Close to "Chuck" and corrected the record of a wife-husband artist duo to include the wife's full name. Someone in the future will update the grammatical mistakes I thought I was impervious to, will further elaborate on my information. There is always a new way to deal with old things.

I began to tangibly interact between past and present when I took a gallery sitting shift at CoCA PS35, the organization's current gallery space. I was looking at mailed newsletters from 1998 one day, and the next I was entering last weekend's sign-ups for tomorrow's email newsletter. Serendipitously, one day I met a visitor to the gallery who saw Robert Irwin at CoCA in 1982. I can't help reminiscing about shows I didn't go to because I was a 2-year-old (I spend just a little bit longer poring over Land/Use/Action, 1999, pamphlets whenever I come across them), and I resolve to see all the current art that I possibly can. CoCA, Seattle, and contemporary artists everywhere are doing archive-worthy things every day; it can just be hard to tell until you're looking at it from 35 years away.

As my internship comes to a close, I will miss counting time with decades instead of minutes. My keyboard will miss the familiarity of typing out "Annual Painting Marathon and Auction". I will miss discoveries like evidence of my high school science teacher performing at a CoCA opening party. I will miss coincidences like reading about a Ken Lum (artist, educator) piece on an art blog right after archiving the Northwest Annual he juried. CoCA is so important, and understanding its history is integral. Those file cabinets are a road map to answering the tough questions: how to run an art non-profit, how not to, how to use 80s graphics to your advantage, how not to. Like everywhere, the contemporary art world in Seattle is always in flux, but perhaps this is true now more than ever. I feel proud of what CoCA has done, where it is going, and its gift of the Archives Project as a resource.

Thank you so much, CoCA, for the opportunity to work on this project that is as fascinating as it is necessary.

-Greta Rainbow
2nd year student pursuing a BA in Art History, World Religions and Cultural Studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada

From the entire CoCA team, thank YOU so much for all your help this summer Greta!


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