On cross-cultural communication in archives

Sutra by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Photo credit: Hugo_Glendinning

Sutra by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Photo credit: Hugo Glendinning

Performances communicate ideas and emotions beyond words, cultures, and borders by provoking an aesthetic response from the audience. The magical effects of a performance not only affect the people in the audience. Ideas and histories are imprinted on objects and places as well. While history is held in objects and conversation, the way we engage in conversation has changed. A performance is a dynamic event, made up of other dynamic and interactive parts. Šimko, Máša, and Giaretta note that classical performing arts elements (dance, music, theater) can be “enriched with new media elements such as speakers, microphones, lasers, light sensors, video projectors, mixing boards, computers, script and programs, audio samples, video loops, 3D models and more…” (2009). They suggest that even more advanced technology is needed to appropriately capture new media performances: methods for 3D renderings, synchronized video shot at different angles, and a timeline profile. Just like dance, which changes organically over time, the practices in documenting dance are in flux, where dance scholars, librarians, and digital curators share conceptual notions for a process to keep the works richly described for the fullest experience over time.

Digitized drawings from Rudolf Laban’s ‘Spatial Forms’ work. From Digital Dance Archives http://www.dance-archives.ac.uk/From http://binarybutoh.blogspot.com/2006/01/motion-capture-dance_23.html Motion capture image from http://binarybutoh.blogspot.com

When I reflect upon the artistic individuals with whom I’ve worked—choreographers, dancers, musicians—I am reminded that they are intensely passionate people. Their creative process is fluid, mercurial, movable; sometimes artistic individuals move at this pace and tempo with ideas exchanging and changing to develop or study a piece. Not only is information being used and studied, a creative work that may be ill-described scholastically is being developed. Concepts and work are communicated with movements or sounds, new vocabularies are developed, new environments are considered, and the impossible is challenged. Culture is a word with many meanings and contexts to different populations. To me it represents a diversity of perspectives, and is a reminder that information and ideas come from people.

As a former performing artist, my perspective is from a place of creativity and collaboration. Through dance, I find opportunities to connect diverse individuals with new modes of creativity and thinking. Non-verbal communication in the languages of movement, music, or spatial perception are practiced and performed daily by dancers, but can also be understood by individuals in engineering, math, science, and the humanities. The creative arts are naturally inclusive and support pedagogies that address different learning styles. The arts allow exploration in movement, self-awareness, and individual thought. In a higher education environment, utilizing the creative arts as a springboard for diversity inclusivity supports creation and discovery. And, this is the heart of academic inquiry and expression. Thousands of unique, representative voices are preserved in primary source materials—perfect tie-ins to any curricular exploration. As an archivist at a university with a performing arts background, I have the ability to engage in and support education by curating primary source materials within the context of an array of varying perspectives.

“Culture is central to what we see, how we make sense of what we see, and how we express ourselves” (DuPraw & Axner, 1997).  When information professionals consider providing service by communicating across cultures, an essential humanity that we seek in public service is fulfilled.  Adding the humanity to the perspective of information, and what are considered resources, can foster a greater connection to a wider population—a communication across cultures.

Bhutanese dance video. Collection: Bhutan Dance Project, Core of Culture. Repository: The New York Public Library, Jerome Robbins Dance Division.

Bhutanese dance video. Collection: Bhutan Dance Project, Core of Culture. Repository: The New York Public Library, Jerome Robbins Dance Division.


DuPraw, M. E., & Axner, M. (1997). Working on common cross-cultural communication challenges. Retrieved May 30, 2014 from http://www.pbs.org/ampu/crosscult.html.

Šimko, V., Máša, M., & Giaretta, D. (2009). Long-term digital preservation of a new media performance: ‘Can we re-perform it in 100 years?’ International Preservation News, 47, 32–34.


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