My Friend Greer

A view of It’s all About ME, Not You. Greer Lankton’s permanent installation at the Mattress Factory. More images available on the online database. Courtesy of the Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh.
 

My Friend Greer

This spring I interned at the Mattress Factory in their Greer Lankton Archive; Lankton was a doll-maker, sculpture, and mixed-media artist who came up in the East Village arts scene in the 1980s. Her work is a visceral exploration of the body and identity, that captures both the joy and the grotesque of making and remaking oneself. During my internship in the archive, I was able to spend hours sorting through not only Lankton’s artworks, but also through her correspondence, family photos, and personal belongings. The archive is part of a larger collection of Lankton’s work, most popularly known by her permanent installation It’s all About ME, not You.  

I came to the archive as part of an on-going digitization project that hopes to relaunch the online database of her work and preserve it for future studies. I thought that I would learn how to make digital scans of images, catalog all kinds of information, and learn best practices for the preservation and storage of physical and digital items, and I did. What I did not expect was how quickly looking through all these personal items would create an emotional bond between myself and Lankton. Over the months I was there, I read her diaries, letters from friends and family, looked through her childhood photos, the photos of her friends, even her driver’s license and death certificate. Greer was the kind of person who wrote everything down, and was never shy about how she felt; she was beautiful, passionate, and deeply troubled. Even though she died before I was born, she feels like a friend going through the same things as everyone else. Preserving her legacy feels like an intimate bond of trust, it feels like I need to take care of her and whatever we have left. Lankton’s work is undoubtedly beautiful, poignant, and uniquely transparent about who she was and how she struggled.

 

While I was there in the archive I wrote indexes and finding aids to make the space more accessible to visiting researchers and future staff, who need to be able to know what the archive contains and where to find it. I also learned the international standard for digital archives known as FADGI and how to use various adobe software to help streamline the process and insure consistent quality. My managers, Sinéad Bligh and Sarah Hallett, emphasized the need to maintain a parallel structure across the physical archive, on external hard drives, and in cloud storage, which ensures redundancies to protect the data and makes all three preservation systems mutually intelligible. I also handled, sorted, and stored a large number of Lankton’s 2D work from sketches to full illustrations and paintings. Tangibly connecting with work from across an artist’s whole career is a rare opportunity few people are lucky enough to have.

 

Given the COVID-19 situation my museum studies internship was cut short. But,  I’ve been fortunate to be selected as a Fine Fellow for Summer 2020 and am continuing my work with Greer from home for the time being. 

Categories: 
  • Academic Interns
  • Undergraduate Work
  • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh