Tuesday, 21 March 2017 17:11

UNFILED – A story of boxes, notes and sketches from a design thinker’s archives

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The artist as a young man, 1973||| The artist as a young man, 1973||| |||

Back in the day, as a young art student at York University, I was frequently challenged by new ideas from leading thinkers of the day such as Marshall McLuhan, Alvin Toffler, and Lucy Lippard.

I started to accumulate articles, files, magazine clippings, drawings, notes, and photographs. And slides. (Apparently, many people under 30 today do not know what 35mm slide are. Hhmm.)

I became fascinated with documenting, archiving and organizing material that could be retrieved for later use. I studied the filing of things, and filled my notebooks with ideas on how/why to file stuff properly.

I set up an early form of information architecture – how to structure and file information so it is most easily retrieved and put to use.

I was an information junkie – about 20 years before they invented the Internet.

So, then I became intrigued with the idea of a time capsule, so that information of today could be packaged so that future generations/audiences could get a glimpse of what things were like back in the day.

3 boxes 1975During the threshold moment of finishing university, I came up with the idea of doing a one-man show called simply ‘FILE’ – featuring none other than my filing system, along with a cross-section of my personal files, and copies of selected notes, illustrations, photographs, receipts, etc., mounted and on display on the gallery walls. I designed and built three archival storage boxes (aka crates or caskets). The FILE caskets were part of the show.

The intent was, that these boxes, or caskets, would be buried at different locations around Ontario, and that at some point in the future, they would be unearthed. I think I had always planned to be around when they were unearthed, or unfiled, sort of like my past self talking to my future self, saying, hey, how did things turn out in the future?

It’s now 2015. It’s been 40 years since that show. I asked myself ‘where are those boxes?’… It’s time to ‘dig them up’.

I knew I had one buried in our basement – not physically ‘buried’, just piled under other storage debris, and I hadn’t looked at it in years. I knew that one of the boxes had gone to a friend of mine at the time (who purchased it for $50). I’d kept in touch with her from time to time, but I had no idea whether she still had it. Turns out, she did – “buried in her basement” – with family photos in it.

The whereabouts of the third FILE box was a mystery until I sent some family history information to my siblings this past Christmas. My brother, James, wrote back, thanking me, and saying that he’d file it in “that box you gave me for my 21st birthday”. Mystery solved.

So, this May, I’m re-mounting the show. This show is about the retrieval and (temporary) reuniting of the three boxes 40 years later. The owners of the other two boxes have kindly agreed to allow their FILE crates to be put on display. In the process, a lot of other stuff from my personal archives has come to light. Drawings, notes, photographs, post cards – many of which have not seen the light of day for the last four decades. I felt it was time to give them some air.

The process has given me the chance to look back at what I was doing at that time: what was so important to me then? Was I doing anything similar then compared to what I’m doing now? Looking back, I can see some of the same themes: documenting and preserving history, story telling, organizing information, the importance of good design, building relationships and creating community.

How does looking at the past, prepare us (make us resilient) for the future?

Winston Churchill once said, “A nation that forgets its past has no future.”

The FILE boxes are a metaphor for the desire to preserve the past. Keeping the story alive.

pdfRead the review of the show


UNFILED: A retrospective art show by Tom Graham.
Boxes, notes and sketches from a design thinker’s archive.

May 1st, 4 – 8pm
May 2nd, 11am – 5pm
May 3rd, 12noon – 4pm

Opening reception:
Friday, May 1st, 2015
4 – 8pm

The Wellstein Gallery
113 Prescott Street
Kemptville, ON

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