letters from the north

Kopenhavn- the archive vs....

I am on my last stop of my trip: Copenhagen! At the Danish Polar Center on the small island of Christianhavn in the center city's south end. My flat is actually about one block from the center, which is so fortunate.

I have met with two people, Kirsten is the photograph archive librarian and Annika is the prints/painting archivist. I have been there for the past two days and have realized that it is a whole other monster: Greenland and the Danes.... It has its own history, problems, representations, anthropological experiments and field work (including very interesting eugenics field work done in 1883-85, 1885-88 of both Eskimo Greenlanders and the Danes in Denmark, complete with amazing photographs, by Søren Hansen, an anthropologist,). And I know close to nothing, save a few names and artists, about any of it! But I have learned a lot in the past two days based on the little information that I did know and two very good archivists to assist me and offer up any information that they know of names, places, interesting stories or situations. Their photograph collection is incredible and the years 1860-1930 are all on a public database. This is one of the key things I have been going through. I will post the website of it at the end, for it is worth just checking out except that it is only in Danish. I will include a few names to enter into the database so you can see what I have been looking at, too.

Grønland has been a colony of Denmark since 1721, and so they have had their share of a difficult relationship with missionaries, 'eskimos', the 'Danes', the 'Greenlanders', the anthropologists and scientists, government officials...like any colony. Everyone seems to have had their own agenda when it came to the huge island.

The archives at the Polar Center are just that: an archive of Danish polar history, across the vast arctic and in Grønland. They (the archives) are rarely shown publicly and the center does not have a public education department that would host school children on fieldtrips or anything like that. This is really too bad because a wealth of information is resting in the attic, just like there was at the National Maritime Museum in London. So much that is never publicly displayed. Are these archives dead? The question that came to me while looking up on their 6th floor, which is where everything is carefully packaged and placed on shelves, is if an archive is not shown, then what is it considered? It hovers in this interstitial space that is neither pre- or post- museum for it may never even reach the museum. It is no longer living because the artifacts or photographs have been taken away from the field, away from where they were found. They are not dead in a museum display either. The only people to acknowledge their existence is the archivist, that which has housed them there. And then the occasional researcher, looking for something specific within the archive. The artifact in the archive gains its significance through its personal tag with date/number/name/description it has been gifted and its computer database or binder accompaniment. But without this tag, is it just junk? Hoarded up in an attic, the top floor, or in a basement, as most archives are placed? Architecture determines a lot about importance. Bathrooms on the ground floor of houses, along with kitchens, and bedrooms on the second floor or towards the back of a house. In the Somerset House in London, originally the important offices were on the ground floor with the best furniture and from there up it just became cheaper and the ceilings lower. We constantly act as history's witness by visiting museums, forts, au/biographies, government buildings, op-ed pages in newspapers, and churches as tourists, to give a few examples. Yet, who is the archive's witness besides the archivist?

Why do we choose to keep fragments of clay pipes? Is it an act of salvation, a gesture of saving, even if we are not directly connected to that which we have dug out of red dirt, found in a cave, chiseled out of a glacier, tripped on in a jungle? I recognize that we would like to hope that we are getting 'better' as humans. This I am not so sure about and I am ok with that. I can still drink my wine at night. But our things, our possessions, they surround us, shroud 'us' at times, who we as people, as creators in the world are. Is it the archive that does not allow us to move past our histories? Our physical landscapes determine our objects, too, which then shape who we, individually and societally, morph into. I do not know how to use a sledge because I was not born in the snow and ice. I use a sled for winter fun, leisure instead of work. Travel moves objects around the globe more easily than even 50 years ago.(study abroad college programs, cruises) I am bringing back 'foreign objects' that I hope to keep as part of my personal history of this research trip, along with my personal diary I kept and my public notebook and my computer documents and digital photographs, which are public and some personal. I have created my archive, my collection, my personal historia of a young single woman american artist traveler who left her partner at home with their kitten. Now I will have to decide whether to place my archive in the basement or attic?

www.dpk.dk
and
www.arktistebilleder.dk - go to the right side of the page under the word 'fritekstsøgning' and do the following searches if you are interested:
Christian Bendex Thostrup
Søren Hansen
Tegninger (this means drawings)
Morten Pedersen Porsild
Danmark Ekspeditionen
Thule Ekspeditionen
Knud Rasmussen