Pass on the Sacred Flame was a methodology developed in response to the Since 1989 brief in London, relating to the post-truth era and the role of the archive. 

Ada Reinthal and I staged encounters between spaces, objects, and persons separated by the political forces of history.

We used improv aided by masked archetypes, props, and unearthed voices to explore how two safe spaces might interact, and what breadth of knowledge we might discover in the unsafe spaces between them. When editing filmed material, both real and staged, we challenged ourselves to reframe how we might constitute events and the truths they represent. In order to tell the story of the two women’s archives and their tactics of survival, we asked a few questions. How could we weave between their collections of past writings and objects, their history of loss and displacement, their tactics of survival, and what they leave out? How do we talk about our time without attempting to be in control of it? And what daily performances ‘carry the archive’ and ‘pass on the sacred flame’, or the spirit of the fight?

We decided to embody the traits of star-crossed lovers. The London School of Economics Women’s Library and the Feminist Library simultaneously make the spaces safe for some people and objects, but unsafe or inaccessible to others who may bene- fit from the community of knowledge inside.

The Women’s Library houses over 60,000 books and pamphlets, as well as 5,000 objects from women’s movements. It has faced a lot of displacement in the past century: from WWII bomb damage, to risk of flood damage, to most recently, the cutting of funding due to austerity measures. When the collection moved to LSE in 2013, communities protested as they felt that they were losing a safe space where activists and academics could meet.

Nowadays, the volunteer-run Feminist Library in Westminster, founded in 1975, serves more of this function with its inclusive programming and easier access to their selection of books and publications. But they have their own challenges: they fought the threat of eviction in 2016, and in their efforts to stay afloat, a lack the time and resources prevents them from innovating their categorization system to better reflect the current state of their intersectional politics. We were able to view parts of the collections at each of these locations, and meet the people who sustain them.

When exploring how to portray their overlap and interaction, we drew inspiration from Com media Dell’arte, the Italian theatre practice where characters and masks represented social types, and Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, a neofuturist performance that explores hyperreal short forms of storytelling. In Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, she quotes Roland Barthes: “the very task of love and of language is to give to one and the same phrase inflections which will be forever new.” We found improvisation to be a methodology to explore the paradoxical nature of archives and protest spaces. A singular space, under a singular title of ‘feminism’, contains so many 3 different struggles and aims – it cannot be guaranteed that everyone is speaking the same language.

The survival of a woman’s archive is dependent on a lot of players. In order to be filled, they need people to resist against oppressive structures in fierce and creative ways. They need these fighters to preserve their own work, long before the fight is finished, in case dominant histories attempt to erase them. They need procedures to keep artifacts from decaying. And they need systems and trained experts to keep them legible. Here are the scenes we collected: the 2018 Women’s Strike in Russell Square. A tour of the banner collection at London School of Economics. An excerpt from the suffragette Emily Davison’s diary recounting being force-fed during a hunger strike while in detainment at Holloway Prison. A tour of the categorization system at the Feminist Library. And back to Russell Square, hours after the demonstration ended.

By playing around with what we call ‘vulnerable props’, these objects made out of foam, we perform gestures that index notions of safety and survival. For instance, a tea kettle may have helped facilitated a space to build coalition during the suffragette era while a cell phone changes our relationship to unsafe space when we walk home alone at night. The Roestone Collective writes about safe spaces not as static locations, but rather relational work. dependent on objects. In performance, we can stretch the scale of different details or subjectivities outside of their context. We presented these forms in a makeshift quality, with possible new aesthetics for protest, and recreated them through 3D printed replicas so our performative link between the objects, spaces, and people could be carried to new contexts and battles.

When we think about how contemporary feminism may go down in history, we propose vulnerable objects and improvised archives as a way to perform live catego- 4 rizations based on relational qualities, rather than ‘objective facts’, which have repeatedly left out marginalized voices in the past.