The Film/Video director’s files. Where to begin? Perhaps in starting, it would be appropriate to explain just what exactly these elusive files are. The director’s files consist of nine large and four small drawers in the office that house hundreds of manila folders. There is one folder (in some cases multiple) for each director with whom the Walker has been in contact or has had any relation with. So, since the beginning of the files (which I assume was in the 70’s), oodles of newspaper clippings, letters, and other seemingly pertinent items have been placed in the files. Also since the beginning, a plethora of, well, junk (like copies of copies of articles, “while you were out” slips for past curators, etc.) has been added.
Over the course of the past five months, I have worked on unearthing the contents of these drawers. To be fair, they have been worked on for nearly three years, but I as an individual have only been with them for nearly half a year. In the beginning, it was arduous, even dreadful. Imagine having nine large, mostly unorganized drawers housing dusty, potentially very important or very meaningless content staring you in the face every day. Initially, I thought of the task of cleaning out the files as busy work, as something nobody else wanted to do, therefore intended to keep the intern occupied, while cleaning out the beast that no one else had the time to touch. But luckily, I was wrong. I was terribly, terribly, wrong.
My assignment for the content itself was quite simple-discard any print outs from the New York Times, IMDB, or any other document that is easily accessible online, put aside any direct contact, photo or correspondence with the director to be archived, and keep anything else in the folder. I then replaced the bent manila folders with shiny new ones, labeled them, and maintained/restored the alphabetical integrity.
Last week, after having graduated, I had a new burst of life. It was weird, really, because I assumed that graduation, just like birthdays, would do nothing for me-I wouldn’t feel older or smarter, but would simply keep on keepin’ on with my usual life-but that wasn’t the case. I was extremely motivated to accomplish something, anything (as if a diploma wasn’t object enough) and set my sights on the director’s files. I figured that since they had been worked on for three years with little progress, I was going to be the one to plow through and put my organizational competency (and/or slight OCD) to good work.
What I found was a new yet old aesthetic. I found pieces of history-letters typed on thin onion-skin like paper, photographs, and postcards-from some of the greats such as Maya Deren, Elia Kazan, and Bruce Conner. It really was quite beautiful sorting through these documents, these passing notes of history that still remain. There was something very meditative and methodical about cleaning the drawers, and something that verged on the edge of sad. In handling these carefully crafted artifacts, I realized that the art of the letter is nearly gone. Almost every transmission between the artist and the Walker up until the 1990’s was via letter or postcard. An air exists around these letters of thoughtfulness and sincerity that seems lost in the era of e-mail and constant communication.
It took me just over a week at full throttle to complete the files after chiseling away at them for some time, and strangely enough became saddened as I finished the last drawer. It felt like the end of an era as I put the last folder away, felt as though I just sorted through the last of the sincere. But as I ended my romanticized soiree not only with the files but with history, I realized that because these documents exist here, they not only serve as an aesthetic art form in themselves, but are true artifacts of the past and what is yet to come in the future.
So what I leave you with is a few things. One, think about extending yourself past an e-mail and writing a letter, whether small like a postcard or grandiose like a diligently crafted letter composed on an old typewriter. And two, since I did not know how long the director’s files would take me, I decided to extend a similar unknown to this blog by creating a series of posts (whose length is currently undetermined) that will document in pictures and vivid recollections a few specific encounters I had with the director’s files.