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Julia Pelta Feldman

post Contributor Fluxus Project Archivist The Museum of Modern Art

Julia Pelta Feldman has worked for the past two years as processing archivist for the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Archives, which will open for research in 2013. At present she is organizing the exhibition Charting Fluxus: George Maciunas’s Ambitious Art History, which features documentation culled from the Archives and will open at MoMA on March 6, 2013. She is currently pursuing a PhD in art history at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University.

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Thanks for your questions; maybe I can hazard an answer. Archivists and researchers rarely have the opportunity to make these types of decisions: history makes them for us. We often joke that an archive consists of "what doesn't get thrown out" - it's not an ideal grouping of items specially selected for their historical importance, but rather a haphazard collection of things that happened to escape the rubbish bin and find their way into an institution. That coincidental arrangement is often our best clue as to how these materials were used and what they meant to their creator, who was not thinking of them as historical documents but as functional elements in his or her everyday life. That's why we value original order so highly, precisely because it shows a snapshot of history as it was lived, rather than what any given historian or archivist finds important.

The individual materials that researchers, historians, and curators value in an archive will surely change over time - and of course, this is a wonderful thing. But that means that if we rearrange an archive in order to privilege any one interpretation, we do so at the expense of all future interpretations, as future researchers will not be able to start with that material's original context. The original order represents the closest we can get to that lost moment of history. Of course, you're absolutely right that our interpretations speak at least as much to our own culture as to the past; that's why original order is crucial, so that we can keep reinterpreting and finding new meanings in the archive.

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Thanks for your questions; maybe I can hazard an answer. Archivists and researchers rarely have the opportunity to make these types of decisions: history makes them for us. We often joke that an archive consists of "what doesn't get thrown out" -...

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