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The cellulose acetate film degradation process begins with a release of acetic acid and ends sometime after liquid, bubbly deposits ooze and crystallize onto the emulsion. It is not so different than the decay of a more organic body, in both its staged progression and, most especially, its distinct scent—acetic acid is the key component of vinegar. Though there are ways to test for film degradation, one need only smell for it. It’s vinegary, yes, but also simultaneously sharp and musty, fresh and rotting. It’s a reminder: film is a living thing.

This—aging, vinegared history—is what it smelled like on an exceptionally sticky day in July at the headquarters of Obsolete Media Miami (O.M.M.) in the Design District, where O.M.M. cofounder, preservationist, and film archivist Barron Sherer was disposing of the culprit. (Vinegar syndrome, he explained, is contagious—to other rolls of film.) But it was not unpleasant; in fact, given the archive’s interior life, it was a little bit intoxicating. The sun was streaming inside and a NASA documentary screened on a projector while Kevin Arrow—artist, collector, art and collections manager at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, and O.M.M.’s other half—projected overlaying visuals, creating a living, moving collage. Though O.M.M.’s space is wide open, it is crammed with old slides, archived footage, vintage equipment, and found art, all organized tightly enough to feel streamlined but nonchalantly enough to recall an especially fun attic. It is all meant for perusing, browsing, and, for some visitors, utilization.

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Sherer and Arrow developed O.M.M. as a research archive, though its origins—obsessive hobbyism, artistic practice, and an intense need to share it all—render the archives an experimental project. Currently nominated for a Knight Arts Challenge grant, O.M.M. is especially utilitarian in an era of digital technology: beyond just the current fetishization of analog media, developing new ways to work with it represents an important merging of ideologies and time. O.M.M. is interested in what Sherer and other archivists refer to as “the migration of content—we’re moving this analog material into the digital realm so people have easier access to it.”

This is happening in a rather literal sense through actual media transfer, but also more holistically through artistic collaboration. David Brieske, Richard Vergez, and Dim Past are a few musicians currently working with sounds found in the archive for new recordings; pop-up film screenings of archival material are planned throughout the Design District.

At the Miami International Airport, O.M.M., commissioned by Yolanda Sanchez—who manages the fine arts and cultural affairs division of the Miami-Dade aviation department—created a roving pop-up cinema in the concourse, featuring silent films and creating, as Arrow explains, “an antidote to Fox News and airport TV.”

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There, the typically clinical monotony of the airport terminal was interrupted by the comically strange: projected screenings of the 1920 film One Week, in which a slapstick Buster Keaton and Sybil Seely attempt to build a house in seven days, or vintage animated shorts featuring Disney characters tossing basketballs. For such a welcomed program, the guys of O.M.M. went surprisingly rogue. On each day of their residency, they circled the international departures terminal in a golf cart, looking for the areas most populated with dull expressions. Then, having already stored their equipment, they posted up shop with a projector, screen, and speakers, prompting laughter from children and curious pauses from suits, who stopped mid-wheely-suitcase-roll to snack on Versailles pastries and stare. The interaction transcended the space, at least momentarily, but also encourage travelers to engage with it.

That’s the essence of O.M.M.’s community presence: giving back by getting others involved. “Our careers have always been about public service, so now these artistic practices are lining up with that,” says Sherer. “It turns out all these nutty, DIY tactics we’ve used have value.” In June, as part of Locust Projects’ LAB (Locust Art Builders) program, a class of local high school students visited the archives and made prints using old slides and images; Sherer and Arrow are putting together a filmmaking workshop, featuring Super 8s gifted by the artist Julie Kahn. “When the kids from Locust came by, they started using Photoshop terminology without even realizing it,” says Arrow. “Instead of sandwiching the slides, they were making layers. Instead of hole-punching, they were deleting.” Hobbies are satisfying conduits for any particular interest—they allow room for constant growth and sometimes act as a medium themselves—but they are much better when they become less singular, more communicative. O.M.M. is satisfying for geeks and inspiring for artists, but it’s also a real educational resource, hosting classes and allowing others to explore, rent, or somehow incorporate parts of the archive into their own work.

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“I think practicing generosity is important,” Arrow explains. “The spirit of altruism runs through this whole project. Both Barron and I were friends with John Spire, who had an audio-visual company on 36th Street and 2nd Avenue; he passed away a few years ago. He was the most generous person in the world with his knowledge and his material. Anyone who shows an interest in this kind of stuff should be generous with their knowledge about it and helping people realize their projects. The volume of stuff that I have—I don’t think I can activate all this material in my lifetime. It’s great to let others activate it for me.”

Adds Sherer: “It’s a post-Internet thing: you realize that people have the same interests that we do. Just sitting in your garage with your slides and film is one thing. Then you realize there’s this interest everywhere else.”

Monica Uszerowicz is a writer and photographer in Miami.