HomeAboutArchival Activist StatementsAlexandra Juhasz

Alexandra Juhasz

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Alex Juhasz with VHS Camcorder in 1987

The VHS Collection held here, 184 items strong, first sat on my office shelves, commencing in the 1980s in NYC, moving to Philadelphia in the 1990s, to Claremont CA from 1995-2016, and then back to NYC, growing in number and interests over the years. In that final return, I wondered what to do with all those tapes, now in a format that was nearly impossible to use, as well as becoming every more fragile. For twenty or so years, I had used these workhorses to teach and for my research in queer feminist media praxis, with core attention to AIDS, feminism, experimental and activist media, anti-racism, queer, lesbian, gay and trans media, and documentary. The collection looks like me, these areas of activism and culture over those years, and also like my extended community of fellow teachers, scholars, artists, and activists from around 1980-2000 when VHS stopped being a well-supported medium for production, collection, or exhibition.

But in fact, all scholars, activists, researchers, and artists of a certain age and inclination are burdened with just such a soon-to-be-obsolete but always-beloved, carefully tended but recently quieted collection which most likely sits on their own office shelf gaining dust: your VHS Archive. Not a personal collection but a professional one of continuing or even growing value if not usability, each VHS archive has been lovingly built and used, probably over decades, for teaching and research and in support of the movements and issues that have mattered most to its collector.

In 2016, I decided to use my small collection as a test-case for these many others. A multi-modal project in research, activism, and care (for tapes, but more so the people in them, and those who will want and use them, see "Queer Histories, Videotape, and the Ethics of Reuse" by Research Group member and archivist, Rachel Mattson) resulted in many small and barely-supported endeavors, including this database of 184 tapes, as well as contemporary work that resulted from putting them online (primarily made by students in a graduate course making use of some of the tapes; see the pull-down tabs that document the two iterations of the course).

Other iterations of the project were the VHS Archives Research Group (2017-2020) at the Center for the Humanities at the Graduate Center, CUNY, which generated ample writing and research by students, scholars, writers, archivists, and activists about analogue archives of vulnerable people, particularly those interested in health and sexuality from a queer, trans, or BIPOC perspective. This group is also developing an archiving tool, Analogue Archives that has quieted in its development because of the COVID pandemic. Several projects were made with this "open source tool for the thoughtful, engaged, and community-based use of analogue materials" (see Sister Projects under the About menu). My project, built in the tool, Womxn of Vision, holds an annotated 4+hour VHS tape that documented my research meeting of feminist media practitioners and supporters from 1994. As is true for the project as a whole, the digitized tape led to public programming where younger feminists engaged with tapes and people from earlier moments in movements.

The graduate course, PIMA 7020G Artistic Process in Contemporary Community/FILM7032G Special Topics in Film History, co-taught at Brooklyn College by Professor Jenn McCoy, used selected tapes from the collection as inspiration, research and re-activation. Two scholarly articles were written about the class, "Re-energizing VHS Collections and Expanding Knowledge," with McCoy, and "VHS Archives, Committed Media Praxis, and ‘Queer Cinema.’" Two websites (this one and then another using Scalar) have been built to hold its growing collections of activism and research.

In comparison to the massive archives and collections of video and other analogue detritus and bounty made available by digital technology, my collection is small, under-supported, and useful to limited and select groups of researchers and searchers. Keeping the tapes loved and useful for those who need them has been the project's primary goal. To allow this to happen, many people put their hands on these materials, as well as the lists, tools, and ideas, and people generated therein. They are thanked in the credits for their invaluable work and generosity. However, Brianna Jones (media archivist) and Corey O'Hara (archival assistant) are the project collaborators who devoted their skills and hearts in ways that got this project, at last, to some finish line: the usable state it in which it now presents. They are two of the queer, of color, and/or feminist researchers to whom this collection is directed and from which more will come.

--Alexandra Juhasz, Project Director