Vanessa Cardui: 
They They They: the national Archives of the Republic of the Homeless 
The Republic of the Homeless is everywhere, and loads of you reading this have been there, I'm sure. It exists in the gaps, the spaces in between, on a tightrope between the gutter and the streets of gold. If you have ever been homeless, you keep your citizenship of this republic for life - you might move away, but you never quite forget. And it's not simple, either; it might not be a conventionally beautiful republic, and life is really hard there, but it does have its beauties and its joyful memories, you know it does. 
 
Not everyone in this republic lives on the street. Sometimes homelessness is about a squat, or a settee at a mate's house, or a B&B. I'm sure you know this. What you might not know is that this republic, like anywhere else, has a national Archives of its own. A collection of stuff that is somehow about the experience of being without a home. It's a dispersed Archives, held all over the world by individual people who have lived experience of being homeless. Some of it is obvious, cliched even - books and newspaper articles about homelessness, sleeping bags and begging signs, traces in the public museums and the public parks that show there were homeless people in 1960, 1860, 1660, 1360. And some of it is not obvious at all - it's contraband, really. It's the stuff that some of us managed to smuggle in from our pasts, before we were homeless, into the Republic - and maybe back out again if we have stopped being homeless. Little objects or trinkets that remind us, or useful things that we managed to hang on to. Or it's stuff we owned and used, or even made, whilst being homeless. Poems and paintings, clothes and objects and photos. 
 
An eye pencil I had when I was homeless. It's Almay, so quite posh. I found it - someone left it by the mirror in a pub toilet, and I kept it. It used to be gold - you can still see it a bit. It's only about 2 inches long now from being sharpened so often. 
 
But the trouble with the Republic's national archives is the same as the trouble with most other archives everywhere - it's disorganised, uncatalogued, nobody really knows what there is; although there's a few people worldwide doing bits and pieces to collect it. 
 
And the *other* trouble with it is that quite a lot of relevant material is held in collections outside the Republic itself. Your local public archives has some of it, I expect. Things that are about homeless people's lives, but that were made by looking *at* homeless people, from the outside. This stuff wasn't collected by homeless people, and it wasn't catalogued by homeless people either; so it turns us into the eternal Other. It makes us into a "they" - they do this and they think that and they feel this and they experience that. They, they, they. We're not the only ones whose histories are presented this way in archival space, of course - there's a lot of it about. 
 
In this residency, through November 2018, I'm pulling together some items that are part of the vast national archives of the Republic of the Homeless - some that belong to me, some that belong to people I know - and cataloguing them archivally, as an artistic practice. The archiving world has its own ways of doing things; its own secret methodologies and ways of looking and ways of understanding material culture; so cataloguing in an archival way is a very particular thing. It reveals some unexpected truths, and obscures other truths, just by the mechanism of what kind of information it asks the cataloguer to give; and often you go so far, and then you have to break with the accepted archival methodology because it cannot process or record what you need to say about this or that object. Especially if that object is somehow renegade or marginalised, because the archival profession was originally (I guess) created to record the lives of the powerful. But that moment when you have to break with the time-honoured practices of archiving, is often the most interesting and revealing part of the whole process.  
 
I'll be using a modified version of the international archival cataloguing standard ISAD(G), and using an open-source platform called Omeka to create my digital catalogue; so I'll link to that from here, and you will be able to see a growing catalogue of stuff relating to experiences of homelessness, and what the people who own the stuff have to say about it. And I'll write here about some of the ideas and questions that come up in the process, and post some photos of the obejcts I am cataloguing. 
Collage, made in art session for homeless people, Christmas c. 2004. 
And me? I'm Vanessa Cardui (nawww, it's not my real name), a participatory artist whose practice is all about the question of the archive - what we keep and what "the powers that be" keep on our behalf. I like to rethink and remake archiving in the service of the silenced. I'm not a trained archivist (training is kinda expensive) but I've learnt it myself over the years, through working alongside archives on participatory art projects and the like. Oh yeh, and I've been homeless. And I'm interested in how all our histories get hidden and lost and buried when we fall out of normativity in some way, and how even so, we preserve them, under the radar. Most archives are (at least partly) about what is *not* there; like "what is missing from this dataset?" I love the archival lacunae, the gaps and the silences - they reveal whole histories in themselves. 
 
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