THE ROAMING CENTER FOR MAGNETIC ALTERNATIVES (RCMA) is a lending library of over 500 VHS tapes & video technologies, assembled and distributed by Kendell Harbin, traveling Mid-America to connect with outlying and underrepresented LGBTQIA communities. It is an emergent project exploring the correlation between LGBTQIA identified people, video history, and a medium on the edge of obsolescence. Using a framework of media-based organizing, this outmoded library will act as a temporary community center in which queer folks and non-conformists can gather, engage in critical dialogues, and learn to document their own histories.
Presently, the collection which constitutes the RCMA is located in Kendell’s bedroom. You might picture a ‘little free library’ on a not-so-little scale. Comprised of 500+ titles, 9 televisions, and 4 VCRs, it is an oversized time capsule of late 80’s to early 2000’s video. This peculiar format may seem anachronistic to some. However, it is in this unusual space where an odd sort of currency emerges; both people and media circulate according to chance and desire, rather than industry trends or conventional standards of organization. The notion of taking the collection on the road is rooted in a rich history of traveling libraries dating back to the 18th century. Schools would often disseminate knowledge in underserved populations by bringing books directly to their locale. This movement, combined with Kendell’s own experience struggling to access queer history, is the impetus for this project.
For years Kansas City public libraries have purged queer titles from their collections due to low circulation. Similarly, the evolution of video technology risks the edit and deletion of vital voices. Kendell wants a picture of Midwest queer communities today. What does it look like to live within the margins of the margins, far removed from the coastal spotlight and unconcerned with the hype of major metropolitan cities? As a queer and gender nonconforming person living in Kansas City, Kendell wishes to connect with others who are exploring this vast invisible network.
Home video has been a key method for documenting LGBTQIA culture and Kendell wants to expand the RCMA’s collection to include such narratives. The project will provide a lending library designed to grow with participation by offering equipment access and instruction on subjects such as interviewing, camera-readiness, and DIY filmmaking. Hosting teaching artists to lead workshops and share their expertise will distinguish the RCMA from a bookmobile and make this a unique collaborative experience.
The RCMA will draw from both obscure and mainstream cinema to tease out the ways it has shaped, excluded, or erased contemporary queer history. Exploring this through hands-on workshops, the aim is to empower small communities who wish to tell their own stories. Taking a wider view, Kendell’s goal is to examine the role of archives, sharing economies, and self-made media in the larger project of raising awareness and social equity within remote LGBTQIA populations.
Kendell Harbin currently works as a teaching artist and designer. With a background in media-based organizing, their practice is dedicated to using video and print platforms to learn more about the people and places around them. Drawing from the inherent knowledge of everyone they work with, Kendell’s approach is always collaborative, iterative, interdisciplinary, and process oriented.
A Florida native, Kendell relocated to Kansas City, MO in 2009 to attend the Kansas City Art Institute. With an education rooted in Art History and Printmaking studies, Kendell’s practice is informed by the politics of information and design anthropology. Kendell has been an artist in residence at Ox-Bow School of Art and Artist Residencies (Saugatuck, MI, 2012), FLOAT (Saint Louis, MO, 2014), and Signal Culture (Owego, NY, 2015). With support from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Kendell currently serves as Co-Director of Front/Space, a repurposed storefront in Kansas City used for non-commercial exhibitions, installations, readings, screenings, workshops, research & publishing projects.