Process Post – Nostalgia and Resonance: Archiving Le Boudoir Collection (1994-2006)
by Itzayana Gutiérrez Arillo
What collection/event are you working on?
The private collection of Miriam Ginestier, lesbian/queer/feminist cultural worker. It preserves underground culture of Montreal via material remnants of events produced by Miriam over a period of twenty years, starting in the 1990’s and fading out in the early 2010’s. Such endurance shapes this collection as a bold and in depth stream of access to queer history. It also reveals a pivotal era articulating queer pre internet sociability and media circulation, and its progressive digitization.
The core events of Ginestier’s collection are the cabaret + dance party Le Boudoir (1994-2006), that happened annually, and the monthly Meow Mix (1997-2012). My project with the collection assists its transition from the private sphere to the archival one, starting with Le Boudoir. This iconic event, which primarily took place at the historic Lion d’Or (a cabaret theatre in Montreal), usually assembled a dozen short cabaret acts, as well as a one-hour vaudeville play written and directed by Nathalie Claude, in latter years. A dance party closed the fancy dress sapphic soirée where men had to be escorted by women in order to enter.
I did not go to any Boudoir events and have only looked at its sedimented shape, a thick layer of 13 years of media production. I did not dig long silent hours to find the dazzling strata. It was deep winter of 2018 in Montreal and Miriam was travelling to the past bringing memories dwelled in her closet and kitchen cabinets. My eyes got real wide witnessing the animation of a bucket filled with dusty rolled up posters and a black binder revealing small ephemera. I got all nostalgic about this past I never knew before. She seemed nostalgic about the loss of something intimate. While feeling textures, listening to stories and smelling old species of paper, another effect started to accumulate. “Tactile modes of looking”1 speak loudly to me and Le Boudoir’s most public face are vintage nude female body parts. This project is then also about queer nostalgia and the resonance of alluring pasts.
Rosita and Fannie Nipplebottom, aka Miriam Ginestier, in a short silent video made for Le Boudoir.
Fanny Dans Le Temps
Video still, 2005
Collection Miriam Ginestier
What kinds of materials/belongings, are part of this collection/event?
This is the most vast multimedia collection of queer events I have ever seen. A wide range of printed advertising — including flyers, posters, postcards and programs — were printed for circulation in the public sphere. Once indoors, shows and audiences were captured in photo and video formats, mostly by Sasha Brunelle (Sasha La Photographe). There are a few promotional objects left, including underwear, t-shirts, buttons, pillowcases, magnets and pop-up books. Finally, a digital section is composed of a spicy event listing email written and sent monthly by Miriam (MIMLIST), two defunct web pages (le bourdoir.org and mimproductions.org), and diverse files.
I have only looked closely at the printed remnants of Le Boudoir which has a delicate rich layer of raw printed formats such as program dummies, flyer templates, sheets of tickets. Still un-cut, un-folded, or un-assembled, they speak about techniques of production of formats at different stages. Repetitive and silent labour is the almost never documented dynamic behind the production of prints. Miriam was the principal media producer, the event producer, and first archivist of this collection so this is just one point of entrance to the muscle behind a huge effort beyond material remnants.
A thicker strata is a full run of posters of different sizes, from the most mobile and cheap letter and legal sizes, to the full pliego ones for stellar presence in large halls and front window advertising. Despite the ubiquitous presence of posters in the city life, consecutive sequences of low run ephemera rarely make it to the archives. This tendency heavily marks underground culture and makes this collection even more valuable. There is one surviving poster for every one of the thirteen years of existence of Le Boudoir.
The graphic identity of Le Boudoir relies in a bimedial structure of boudoir postcard + text advertising each lesbian cabaret show. From the last third of the nineteenth century to the first decades of the twentieth, boudoir cards widely circulated photos of female full bodies and body parts. Miriam enlarged and re circulated those in her posters, connecting them to queer lesbian stage dynamics. What a daring act of “remediation”!2 The past belongs to the queer future and vintage intimate formats represent a full vibrant scene.
What is your relationship with this material, these events?
Cheap printed formats and illustrations were my refuge growing up in Mexico. In 2004 I started my bachelor’s degree in Cultural History at Universidad Autónoma de Morelos in Cuernavaca, a bit after coming out. I ran away from home with savings I made performing, and all of my first academic gigs involved archival research. Regular work in all sorts of archives has been fundamental for my professional practice.
In 2008 I went to my first queer burlesque party, organized by Burlesquimeras. The year after, I got my first museum job at Museo de las Culturas, moved to Mexico City, began a graphic design practice, and started to date Islandia, one of the Burlesquimeras. In 2012 I got a small research gig with T.L. Cowan covering Festival Internacional de Cabaret, started my MA in Art History at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and got an internship at Museo de Arte Moderno. While writing my thesis about illustrated books, I got a curator contract at Museo Barroco Internacional. In the summer of 2014 I visited Montreal for the Hemispheric Encuentro of Performance.
In 2015 Islandia and I emigrated to Montreal to start our PhDs, where I have continued specializing in paper traces and design practices. My doctoral research at the Communication Studies program at McGill University focuses in comic books and touches other popular media. A year or so in the program, I met Miriam and her partner Viva at the birthday party of Jasmine Rault, T.L.’s partner. Miriam invited me to queer tango, but first I went to one of the performance events she organized, the sort of celebratory funeral of the Edgy Women festival (which ran for 23 years), in 2016. In 2017, I went to the last queer tango festival that she and Viva organized. I had the impression I was arriving late to everything. But I arrived on time to Cabaret Commons, T.L. and Jasmine’s project.
I arrived to Miriam’s collection with academic and creative practices that incline me to preserve it, and a depth and disciplined connection with the world of prints. At the same time, I have never worked with such close proximity and capacity of decision. I danced tango with Miriam a few times, participated in performance workshops at Studio 303 that she organized, and attended some of her more recent events. With a scholarship to work for Cabaret Commons in hand, I visited her at her home. I rode my bike to a second meeting in the summer and loaded it with chunks of unlisted materials to classify at home. Miriam biked to my place with a backpack of more materials in the fall. I started extending, flattening, layering and articulating the fragile field. Julia, a tango friend with a car, helped me move the listed and organized by formats 2.0 collection to an office I was provided at Media McGill. There, I set up a rudimentary laboratory with 3 working tables. I applied conservation protocols, improved legibility, measured the formats, and I am currently transforming the list into a documental guide/finding aide/contextual document.
What kinds of permissions protocols are you and your collaborators thinking about?
The protocols applied until now could be organized in five areas:
1) Design a project that is useful for the collector. Via interviews and emails, I informed myself about their priorities and consider them to shape the information I will produce. Initial questions included perceived priorities, desired audience, preferred parameters for the database, and a set of tags for the meta level. This means the collector is being considered in the structure of the collection, and the system of information that will assist researchers of the collection. This process also represents the collection with the final hosting archive, informing policies of preservation and cataloguing.
2) Preserve the integrity of the collection. Initially, Miriam told me she had 15 posters and 1 binder. Then maybe a shoe box, a backpack and also a suitcase. Many collections are made out of these “patches”3 of materials and, to detect and reinforce patterns that hold the collection together requires keeping a wide eye and investing time developing specific standards of information.
3) Get feedback from the collector at different stages of the project; not just with final deliveries.
4) Get consent about the physical interventions planned on the collection.
5 ) Integrating live testimonies.
Do you think it is possible to create this kind of online space? Have you seen anything online that resembles this or inspires this?
The initial outcome of this project was meant to be an online exhibit, but the priority shifted towards bringing its materials to a safe shore. With clean, flat and soft folios, I started with the catalogue. To create an online space for it is possible, and desirable, but requires a deeper dive in formal figures of temporality (FFT) such as archives, timelines, temporalities, exhibits and so on.
As a result of this project, a classic performance event producer, a.k.a. Miriam, and myself in the role of print historian, share some of the cost and work that takes transitioning from a private collection towards an archive. Other FFT sweet sparks are a first timeline of the event and an organized grid of materials ready to be boxed. There is also a first catalogue prototype following standard archiving systems that will help regulate the donation of the archive.
Layers of FFT’s ideally support historical density and can also habilitate inspiring tours. The backbone of a “walking” experience, what holds diverse routes together, is a well researched collection but also a rich temporal thread connecting a general history with the particular history of what is being showcased. Ideally, the resulting space will loosely integrate multisensorial pathways supporting different styles of learning. We have strong grounds to build a refreshing exhibit about queer nostalgia, and its critical performing of the past.
In recent years, online storage of classic ephemera keeps proliferating, centering mass produced and conservative propaganda. Swimming against the current, survival materials of queer ephemera remain rare. Its proper exhibit resonates critically with historical possibilities. Formal figures of temporality like archives and chronologies, expanding and restricting our understanding of what time is, are instrumental. Tensions of belonging, and not, to larger experiences of time, long lines of cross contamination among generations, and creative dynamics twirling here and there are all possibilities to swagger.
- Susanna Paasonen, Carnal Resonance: Affect and Online Pornography. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2011, p. 167.
- Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge: MIT, 1999.
- Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World. On the Possibility of Life in Capitalists Ruins. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015.