The Critical Visitor project

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Look Back

In capsule form, we would like to take a moment to look back at our activities since we started, in what seems like another time ago, pre-COVID. As project leader, I want to heartily thank all those involved in dedicating their energy and critical capacities to the various research forums of the Critical Visitor. As amorphous as we might be as a network of folks laboring to create Heritage for Everyone, I hope that the acts of solidarity and change conducted within and inspired by this project are part of generating a horizon for shared social justice.

– Eliza Steinbock

The Critical Visitor project had a flying start with a kick-off event last January 2020 attended by all partnering institutions and interested public at Het Nieuwe Instituut. Our formal beginning was in February when we had a two-day Field Lab hosted by the Research Centre for Material Culture with Alessandra Benedicty-Kokken at the Tropenmuseum to discuss intersectional approaches to heritage spaces that highlighted disability arts (Eliza Chandler) and anti-racist activism (Miriyam Aouragh). Also, in February, the Archival Interactions group gathered at DAS Graduate School to plan out the topics they wished to cover in their five expert working meetings about how sensitive, contested, missing, and difficult archival materials are collected and performed.

Thereafter, the Critical Visitor events moved online. We accomplished running two more field labs: on solidarity (hosted by RCMC’s Amal Alhaag, with Layal Ftouni, Hodan Warsame, Aynouk Tan, and Teresa Cisneros) and decolonizing praxis (hosted by Charles Jeurgens with digitized examples from the National Archive presented by Michael Karabinos, Mrinalini Luthra, and Saskia Virginia Noot). We also organized three more Archival Interactions on criticality (hosted by RCMC’s Amal Alhaag with Inez Blanca van de Scheer), urgency (hosted by VAM’s Olle Lundin with Nick Aikens, Susan Pui San Lok, Michael Karabinos, Julius Thissen and Ali Venir), and the anarchival (hosted by DAS’ Sher Doruff with the collective “To See the Inability to See”). Online meetings curtailed the less formal opportunities to bond and share information, but did provide us with the means to grow our participation numbers through a 'bring a buddy' system that we hope also results in the insights from these research forums becoming more integrated in organizational structures and shared more widely.

The first open public event of the Queer Salon hosted at Het Nieuwe Instituut by Dirk van den Heuvel was delayed with the hope to convene in-person, but ultimately was held online with speakers discussing how intersectionality can be a form for critical self-identification as well as a method for identifying gaps and blindspots in institutions of heritage and culture. We heard from Indira van 't Klooster (director of ARCAM, Amsterdam centre for architecture, urban design and landscape architecture), Vincent van Velsen (independent curator and architectural historian), and Ellen Smit (conservator of HNI). The keynote was delivered by architect and queer theorist Olivier Vallerand, author of Unplanned Visitors, Queering the Ethics and Aesthetics of Domestic Space (2020).

You can catch up with the research of our PhD candidates Liang-Kai Yu and Nina Littel in the “Voiceblind: Matters of Methodology (podcast series)” published online by ARIAS. They have begun with gusto their projects on ideologies of alternative archive and the queer failures of museums. Please check it out here. Episode 9: The Critical Visitor: How heritage institutions can achieve inclusion and accessibility, listening with PhD candidates Liang-Kai Yu and Nina Littel, in association with Amsterdam University of the Arts, Leiden University and TU Delft.