“They did a lot of work to get it up and running, but when Sgarbi left office on fraud charges in 2012, it all stopped. It’s in a stalled state now,” explains Joshua Neves, Canada Research Chair, assistant professor of film studies at Concordia and director of the Global Emergent Media (GEM) Lab.
Not your typical video archive
Intrigued by the Mondo Kim’s story, Neves secured a SSHRC Connection Grant to host a two-week GEM Summer Institute in Salemi this July. He has assembled a team of Italian and international students, scholars, artists and archivists to work with local staff to stabilize the archive and reconsider this unique collection.
Institute members will assess the condition of the archive, implement a new digitization plan, consider its material history as well as its artistic potential and come up with ideas for its possible future.
This is no small challenge. Mondo Kim’s was not your typical video store. The collection is an amped-up version of what you would find in a late-90s independent rental shop: alongside the mainstream classics and art-house cinema, there is a large collection of horror, porn, sexploitation and B movies.
“The actual collection may not jive with the town’s idea of what an independent film centre should be,” Neves says.
“But archives like this need not operate according to values that we often attach to them. It’s an opportunity for new collaborations.”
Ultimately, he and his colleagues see this as a long-term project. After the summer, the GEM Lab will host a series of events at Concordia, screening student projects and producing a white paper that reflects the perspectives of multiple stakeholders and offers solutions for the archive.
‘It has to have local impact’
As an official sponsor of the institute, the town of Salemi is an active partner in the renewal project. They have provided full access to the archive, a Norman castle to hold classes in and buses for transportation.
“The mayor was very specific: whatever happens, it has to have local impact. It must become some kind of institution within the town.”
According to Neves and his team — which includes the Sicilian-born video artist Elisa Giardina Papa and film historian and archivist Regina Longo — the town may need to rethink the basic assumptions made in the original proposal that brought them Mondo Kim’s.
Central to the institute’s thinking is the notion of the living archive: one that rejects static, final, master versions of materials that are safeguarded in ideal conditions and accessible only by specialists with the right credentials.
‘We have to build this together’
Neves hopes eventually to assemble a board that would include locals, other Italians and internationals to find ways to activate the space, enliven this archive and bring in different stakeholders.
Institute members are already brimming with ideas of how to accommodate local needs and those of artists or researchers: a regional video festival, artist residencies and expanded summer programs with Concordia or other universities.
As an expert in global video culture, Neves sees many residual media collections like this floating around the world that pose interesting questions for archivists. It’s one case study among many that he is documenting and assembling for a future book.
“The problems posed by this project — while very specific — are not unique. Success has to include different levels. It’s never going to work if it’s only local; it’s never going to work if it’s only outsiders. We have to build this together.”
Find out more about Concordia’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema.