Hemispheric Institute’s Digital Video Library

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A review of the Hemispheric Institute’s Digital Video Library (HIDVL).

The Hemispheric Institute’s Digital Video Library (HIDVL) is a project of the Hemispheric Institute (Hemi), in partnership with New York University’s library, offering free access to hundreds of hours of videoed performances, interviews, lectures and other recorded events of artists and scholars from the Americas. The Hemispheric Institute is the brainchild of Dr. Diana Taylor at New York University. The mission of the institute is described on their website as such: “The Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics is a collaborative, multilingual and interdisciplinary network of institutions, artists, scholars, and activists throughout the Americas. Working at the intersection of scholarship, artistic expression and politics, the organization explores embodied practice—performance—as a vehicle for the creation of new meaning and the transmission of cultural values, memory and identity. Anchored in its geographical focus on the Americas (thus “hemispheric”) and in three working languages (English, Spanish and Portuguese), the Institute’s goal is to promote vibrant interactions and collaborations at the level of scholarship, art practice and pedagogy among practitioners interested in the relationship between performance and politics in the hemisphere.” The HIDVL and the artists and performances that the HIDVL features reflect this mission.

Included in the HIDVL are some of the most significant artists from throughout the Americas including El Teatro Campesino, Astrid Hadad, Circus Amok, FOMMA, Guillermo Gomez Pena and his performance art group La Pocha Nostra, Split Britches and will soon include one of the world’s most influential theater practitioners, Augusto Boal. Countries represented include Canada, the United States, Mexico, Colombia and Argentina. Materials are brought into the collection when artists, many of whom have pre-existing relationships with the Institute, are invited to submit archival materials to become part of the HIDVL. Once invited, the artists review their materials to select what videos should be included in the HIDVL (this is determined by relevance to Hemi’s mission, the significance of the performance, and the quality of the video/recording). The collection for each artist or artistic group is meant to represent as much of their work as possible under the confines of reflecting Hemi’s mission and being of sound quality. Under normal circumstances, the artists first send their videos to New York University for processing. In some instances, if the archive of that particular group is large, unorganized or needs some sort of special attention, the Institute will send someone to assist in the process. In 2005, I had the great pleasure and honor of working with the Hemispheric Institute as the on-site archivist for their collection of Grupo Cultural Yuyacahkani (a world-renowned theater company based in Lima, Peru). In 2006 and 2007, I worked with El Teatro Campesino to include their collection as part of the HIDVL as well. Once submitted to the Institute the videos are digitized by NYU’s library and are made accessible on the internet (this is a gross simplification of what is a very long and extensive process). Each video includes a description of content, significance and relevant credits.

Having these materials available online is a major advantage for both researchers and the artists. Many artists and performance scholars do not have the financial and temporal ability to travel to the sites in order to access performance archives (if they are available to the public in the first place). Even if one could physically travel to these sites they may not be able to watch the videos now featured in the HIDVL because many of these videos were originally in a format, such as BETA tapes, that are no longer utilized. For example, in order to view many of the videos featured as part of the Yuyachkani collection, one would need special equipment not readily available. For the artists, the newly digitized recordings of these performances mean they are able to view videos that perhaps were previously inaccessible due to formatting issues. In some cases, Hemi and NYU’s library have also provided resources to assist with preservation issues. A number of the videos in Yuyachkani’s collection were compromised because of mold. Now included in the HIDVL, these videos went through a complicated and expensive cleaning process beyond the resources of Yuyachkani. This is one example of how the HIDVL benefits both those researching the performances and the performers themselves. Being included in the HIDVL also allows these performers to have a wider audience. A significant aspect of this project is that all rights are reserved by the performers, all archived materials return to the original owners of the videos, and the formatting on the HIDVL does not allow anyone to download the materials. Users of the site can only view the videos by streaming them directly on the HIDVL site.

The Hemispheric Institute’s Digital Video Library is at the forefront of research and materials collections (the use of the word archive and archiving gets complicated here and is intentionally avoided). The fact that it is online and free breaks down barriers of academic privilege while recognizing that people the world over—academics or not—are curious about these performers and performances. The performances featured in the HIDVL also recognize a larger definition of performance (including street actions, performance art, etc.) reflective of the principles of the field of Performance Studies. The HIDVL is an invaluable research site for those interested in performance from the Americas; one could and should get “lost” for hours browsing through all of the incredible performers and performances featured there.

Katherine Jean Nigh, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow at New York University’s Hemispheric Institute in partnership with the University of Manitoba’s Department of Native Studies.
Katherine.nigh@asu.edu

The HIDVL can be accessed at http://hemisphericinstitute.org/hemi/en/hidvl

Image: HIDVL website.

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