Major museums like the New York Historical Society and the Smithsonian Museum of American History are already clamoring over the Occupy Wallstreet protests trying to get posters and ephemera for their collections. While collecting ephemera from events while they occur is not new, somehow it makes me incredibly uneasy. According to Historical Society staff, Jean Aston, they have thousands of pamphlets and such piled up from countless moments since the 18th Century, according to Aston these are worth preserving because, “these items document a particular moment in time which may become significant in the future. If the events fizzle, the objects are still important documents of urban variety and culture.”
Historians are rushing to the site and collecting first, asking questions later. It’s the pack-rat mentality- SOMEDAY it might be valuable. This seems to be great, right? Let’s preserve everything now and sift through it once the chips have landed. Fine. But I can’t help but think that this is doing damage to the protest, sucking the life out of it. Rushing to sweep up the scraps of an ongoing movement can’t help but historicize it, categorize it and make it safe. It’s an institutional vice come down to control and box up the protest in a nice little vitrine. To some extent, this is understandable and is not new. However, with the speed and fluidity of information now, everyone is aware of the protest (who knows if what they think they know is correct). If the protest fizzled out in the near future, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an exhibition pop up in less than five years if only to be an inexpensive crowd pleaser. Besides, countless humanities grad students/ professors are probably already gunning for the primary documents- first dibs and all.
Original story posted in Art Info here.