This blog is an attempt to tease out some of the intertwining strands of my emergent thinking around artists, archives, technology, networks, memory, dementia, culture, power and control.
Through play I’ve re-discovered that the black and white photocopier in my local library shrinks and defragments images the more you copy them. I was photocopying an image of my mum, that I cut from a family photograph; then making a copy from each copy, until the image collapsed. When I cut out the final version and tried to replace it back into the cavity left by the original image – I realised mum no longer fitted into that space. The extent to which she had shrunk had become obvious, due to the now very visible gap between the photocopy and original photograph; Mum now floats, untethered in a space that she used to fully occupy.
Photocopier, Wick Road Library, Brislington, (2019) credit Frances Bossom
I am exploring the potential of binding this series of photocopies as a flip book, so the holder can animate the images as they steadily progress back and forth between states of coherence through to disintegration.
Above and right: Work in Progress (2019) credit Frances Bossom
As well as shrinking, photocopiers progressively shift and move what is being copied off the paper altogether. Different copiers process copies slightly differently; for example the copier in Spike Island's Associate's space makes documents slowly fade away.
My photocopy experiments speak clearly to me across my preoccupations with archives and how our perceptions and memories warp out of recognition over time. The Alternative Document, an exhibition and conference at University of Lincoln in 2018. explored this territory in relation to performance,
"Beyond most ephemeral artwork a memory remains in the mind of the observer and this forms part of the legacy of the fleeting event. However, memory is mostly a personal experience, that shifts, mutates, and fades over time to become distant, different to its origin, and in this way its archival potential is unreliable."
The Alternative Document, Exhibition Handout, Project Space Plus
The further we become removed from the past, the harder it becomes to piece together a true picture of what is real. These ideas take on a greater poignancy for me, when I consider them in relation to my mum's dementia, which I have written about in a previous post 'Memory'.
My intention is to continue making photocopy pieces from my mum’s collections of ephemera including; photographs, letters, postcards, receipts and school reports. I’m a very peculiar sort of archivist, mining her uncatalogued boxes and tins. Working with my mum’s personal archive involves reflecting on histories that I am directly implicated or involved in. Throughout this process of looking back over my mother’s life, I’m becoming acutely aware of my current position; as a woman, mother and carer, entering my late 40’s, in the process of my own, very gradual erasure. At times it feels as though my relevance and potential in the cultural world are gently ebbing, as my attention is divided by competing demands for my body, time and love. Like my mother – who I am meeting again and again through her photographs and documents, I am ageing. I can see and feel the passing of time mirrored between me and the images I have of her. I can also see the tangible gaps between my younger self and who I am now.
(2019) Credit Frances Bossom
One day I will vanish, completely.
Arnolfini was founded in 1961 by three young artists. In the institution's archives housed at Bristol Archives, I am encountering myself and a precocious and ambitious institution struggling to grow up, through a continual cycle of identity crisis, self reflection, expansion and more recently contraction. My relationship with Arnolfini has morphed and changed over the years. I first appear in the Education Archives in 1995 as a volunteer, then freelance artist educator and employee in the Education department up until around 2009. It is tricky to judge in retrospect how accurate and reliable my memories and interpretation of events are.
These days I feel far removed from the art world that I used to live and breathe; now I’m an occasional visitor, simply unable to embed myself in the ways I used to as a young full-time cultural practitioner. Another generation occupies that place now. This gap could be viewed as positive for my research: I have first-hand experience of the world I am researching coupled with the value of hindsight. However, this distance framed and laden with my privilege, may occlude me from being able to see things in new and different ways. Curator and Historian Roma Piotrowska warn us that,
"A picture of the past will never be objective, because it distorts under the influence of time, different ideologies and also individual versions of history. It is written from the traces of historical events, like documents and records, by people who cannot forget their personal prejudices and political loyalties."
Filling Archival Gaps - The role of participatory curatorial projects,
engage 31: The Past in the Present, 2012
I can not navigate Arnolfini’s Education archives alone. Through collaborating with others I will test out how to reactivate significant historical moments from the archive and work out how to share original material and our reworkings of it online. I am anticipating the reactivations will include a mixture of re-enactment, discussion and encounters with original archival material. This work will be discursive and shaped by dialogue, open ended debate and personal reflection - all characteristics that have defined my gallery education and artistic practice for over twenty years.
When I applied for my PhD my intention was to focus on test co-authoring a participatory archive with audiences in order to augment or expand the predominately institutionally authorial voice of Arnolfini's archives. However I am beginning to shift this thinking. Through conversations with arts workers from different institutions, I am sensing a need for arts organisations to understand and reconcile their past themselves before opening out this conversation. If we do not attend to the past, it can become something to be fearful of and as a result the same tensions and mistakes become repeated. In order to participate in conversations about the future role of institutions and cultural democracy with confidence, rigour, integrity and purpose, cultural practitioners need to have honest conversations about how our institutions have evolved.
How has the history of gallery education at Arnolfini and across the UK been documented?
How can we rethink how we archive institutional practices? What impact could this have on future practice?
I am currently focusing on Arnolfini’s Education Archive from 1990 to 1995, an era that predates the ubiquity and dominance of the Internet. The boxes I am working through contain mainly files with paper documents produced by hand or pen, typewriter, word processor, photocopy and fax; they tell me stories about how the institution was practiced, serviced, performed and received.
Card Index Filing Device for Contact Information circa 1995
This film documents an installation that formed part of The Reflux Project staged at the Sao Paulo Biennial, 1991.
Video Still of Reflux Project, Sao Paulo (1991)
There is no direct connection between this project and Arnolfini but watching this now dated footage of a room full of computers, steadily downloading a series of still images, takes me back to being around Arnolfini’s offices as a volunteer in 1995; the smell of the computers, the heat and sound of the photocopying room, the constant flow of internal memo’s in and out of staff pigeon holes, the very specific texture of paper that rolled and curled down to the floor from the fax machine and the Marketing Department’s computer being the only one in the entire organisation connected to the Internet.
The Reflux Project, a Brazillian art collective, curated a series of telecommunication art events between January 1991 to March 1992 involving faxes, computers, telephones and videophones. The project offered
"a telecommunications haven where artist and non-artists from many cultures could exchange ideas to create a multitude of artworks that belonged to no single culture, group, or person....'"
Frank Ratchye Studio for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University
Artur Matuck, a media artist, educator and director of The Reflux Project wrote in 1991,
’'Network artists utilizing telecommunication media are redefining the geographical frontiers of our planet. They are taking the initiative of using the telecommunications media to establish connections between individuals beyond existing frontiers, transbordering institutionalized governments and state structures. They are challenging geographical, linguistic, political, and cultural limits, instituting new models for intercommunication and interactivity between cultural agents."
The Reflux Project - event of a geotronic revolution, Artur Matuck
The vast majority of Arnolfini’s Education archives were not born online but exploited telecommunications to exchange ideas and develop networks. Since the mid-nineties cultural institutions around the world have been testing out how to work digitally to communicate between themselves, curate projects and develop audiences. Today Publicity and Marketing Departments balance maintaining an organisation’s brand with democratising their organisation's outputs. Exploring the relationships between Marketing and Gallery Education is not a new concept for Arnolfini. In 2009 Gill Nicol was appointed Head of the newly formed Interaction Department which merged Marketing and Education or Learning; Interaction only lasted for a couple of years. I may return to this era and examine it in more detail as my research evolves.
Claire Eva started volunteering at Arnolfini around the same time as I did in the mid-nineties. She successfully applied for the post of Marketing Coordinator in 1997 and is currently Director of 2020 Campaign at Serpentine, previously she worked as Director of Brand and Communications for 14-18 Now and prior to that was Head of Marketing and Audiences for Tate for over ten years. Claire discussed her experiences of working at Arnolfini during a workshop as part of the Arts Marketing Association’s annual conference in 2010,
"In the late 90s, when Claire worked at the Arnolfini in Bristol, she updated the newly formed website in the Dreamweaver programme: she was the only person with access to email and they got about four emails a day, which she printed out and put on people’s desks. Everything was done via the telephone. They largely relied on their paper-based mailing list'"
Listen Learn Adapt Morning Keynote, Claire Eva, John Stack and Jesse Ringham
Claire’s workshop session continued to explore the impact of the digital on marketing; these days her role is about communicating a brand alongside creating platforms that actively engage audiences, artists and institutions in debate and dialogue.
I have many questions about the impact of the digital on co-production;
How is the digital enabling institutions to relate to their localities and constituencies in new ways?
How can participatory media enable those who aren't artists or arts workers to be placed at the heart of the debate about art and culture can be?
To what extent are audiences and participants setting the agendas, boundaries, scope and terms of their digital participation?
What are the overlaps and differences between the affordances of telecommunications, participatory media and gallery education?
How is telecommunications and participatory media enabling cultural organisations to decentre their outputs and become more culturally democratic?
How are telecommunications and participatory media shaping and decentring cultural institutions and cultural narratives?
What are the similarities and differences between Marketing and Education?
The notion of questioning what culture can be and creating spaces for debate and dialogue between audiences, artists and institutions is partly what motivates me as an artist and Gallery Educator. Academics, Gallery Educators and Researchers including Carmen Mörsch, Felicity Allen, Emily Pringle and Jenna Graham refer to the radical, feminist politics underpinning the development of Gallery Education in Europe and North America from the 1970s onwards. Looking back through Arnolfini’s archives, I sense a gap between the political (Socialist) motivations of Gallery Educators and how culturally democratic we were officially allowed to be. We (I include myself in this) were, positioned by the institution as, responsive to institution’s curated programmes as opposed to democratising culture and the institution.
"Traditionally, the work of museums and galleries is departmentalised into institutional functions, creating divisions of labour and expertise. Education, Learning and Public Programmes are often seen as secondary to, and servicing Exhibitions, and this hierarchy has created disparities in the way that curators work together and also with artists across programme strands."
Sally Tallant, Experiments in Integrated Programming,Tate Papers Spring 2009
Arnolfini has been historically programmed and curated by Directors, inhouse curators and programmers, often in collaboration with freelancers and other arts institutions. From the late 80s Tate Liverpool was experimenting with integrated programming. This involved developing the programme in ‘curatorial pairs’ consisting of curators from the exhibition and education departments. Ikon Gallery in Birmingham was using the term Curator in relation to staff working across education and outreach from the mid-nineties and the John Hansard Gallery in Southampton appointed a Curator of Interpretation in 1997. In contrast, during the 70s, 80s and 90s Arnolfini divided curatorial and education expertise into distinct departments. The archives contain evidence of research that challenged this tendency of working in departmental silos alongside projects that blurred the boundaries between artistic practice and pedagogy. Despite these challenges to the status quo, gallery education (as well as Marketing and Development) in the 70s, 80s and 90s serviced the organisation's core artistic programme and was subject to the hierarchical institutional divisions outlined by Sally Tallant.
In her last Council of Management Report as Arnolfini’s Education Liaison Officer in 1990, Janette McSkimming discussed the status of gallery education in the organisation at that time.
Janette McSkimming, Council of Management Minutes (July 1990) Credit Bristol Archives
What job titles were used for staff working in Education and Learning at Arnolfini?
What language has been used to describe education, learning, audiences and participants thoughout Arnolfini's history?
What shaped the motivations and aspirations of Gallery Educator's at Arnolfini?
What institutional change were Gallery Educators at Arnolfini fighting for?
How did this change over time?
How much were Arnolfini's Gallery Educator's able to fulfil their vision?
What did Gallery Educators at Arnolfini achieve by stealth?
What projects and relationships fell under the radar?
What projects did Gallery Educators at Arnolfini plan that never happened?
What work were Gallery Educators at Arnolfini not allowed to develop by the institution?
How was Gallery Education at Arnolfini perceived by other staff and your peers nationally and internationally?
What arts institutions and organisations did Gallery Educators at Arnolfini look to for support, guidance and inspiration?
"We can only deal with people who come through the door. These are generally white and middle class."
Education Steering Group Minutes, (July 25 1990)
I view culture as a social construct. Hegemonic culture is controlled by privilege and status and subtly reproduces itself through its own values, interactions and language through the systems and structures of cultural institutions. Power and status are held onto, circulated and recirculated through etiquette and complex codes of behaviour. Institutions can be thought about in eras, governed or characterised by the people who work within them at different times. Gallery Education can disrupt how institutions operate and control the narratives of culture and the dynamics between artists, staff and audiences. Gallery education can also prop up and serve hegemonic institutions.
Throughout my career I have bumped up against Arnolfini’s codes and values that are governed by hierarchies of taste, behaviour, class, race, gender, age, ability and background. I am beginning to trace what remains of some of these more visible hierarchies in the archive and consider how they have contributed to and reflect what is still a divided cultural sector across the city. I don't want to characterise Arnolfini as a totally flawed institution, history is so much more complex than that. I know at times I have been guilty of propping up questionable power systems and structures. At other times I have agitated them. My memories of these times mutate and shift like my mum's image reproduced on by photocopier.
How we choose to work with what remains of the past will determine our future.
In Alliances for Unlearning: On Gallery Education and Institutions of Critique, Carmen Mörsch calls for Gallery Educators to reactivate gallery education’s political activist roots and asserts that Gallery Educators should work from within institutions to open up queer "processual spaces of agency" (Mörsch 2011). In ‘Unglamorous Tasks: What Can Education Learn from its Political Traditions?’ (2010), Nora Sternfield formulates a joint goal for curatorial and educational work "that it challenge the apparatus of value-coding with an eye to changing what can be seen, said, and done. How and when this can succeed is determined as much by the rules and exclusions specific to a field, by its traditions and rifts, as much as by contingencies and forms for dealing with them."
How and what do institutions control?
Who controls institutions? How and what do institutions control?
How does an institution's rituals and behaviours evolve?
Who determines an institution's brand and identity?
Returning to Arnolfini’s archives is enabling me to slowly sift though, excavate and lay bare the institution’s networks. Each piece of paper can be imagined as a historical trace or the physical proof of an attempt by an originator, to communicate or relate to another or others in some way.
Arnolfini Education Archive File, photocredit Frances Bossom (2019), credit Bristol Archives
When I untie the unbleached cotton tape from the files in Bristol Archives, I encounter documents that:
These documents tell stories about the actions and relationships that make an institution. This resonates with Educator Fernand Deligny‘s understanding of networks as described by Lars Bang Larsan;
" ..an existential formation, part of a singular series of utterances and encounters that connect the individual with his or her own social and political contexts; a properly human mode of being because it grows from the ground up as a particular kind of togetherness on the margins of institutional power."
Lars Bang Larsan, Introduction, Documents of Contemporary Art: Networks, Whitechapel Gallery (2014)
Arnolfini’s archives are witness to Arnolfini’s complex and dense webs of external relationships and inner desires, codes and values. Tracing who engaged in these exchanges and reimagining the nature of those connections builds a picture of the organisation's visible and hidden power dynamics and hierarchies.
"We must always remember that this museum culture, from the 1800s to the present day, is neither absolute nor neutral. It is the result of human action, human attitudes and beliefs. It cannot be divorced from ethics in terms of how it was created, how it continues to exist, and how it is used today. Instead of simply focusing, through social inclusion initiatives, on new methods of working with an existing idea, the museum must become a forum for working with communities to attempt to re-think the museum idea itself. In order to do this, it requires not only consultation with the museum’s stakeholders, but a robust cross-disciplinary theoretical examination. A university museum has this potential."
Berndette Lynch, p9, If the Museum is a Gateway, Who Is the Gatekeeper?, engage Journal no 11, (2001)
Thinking and talking about who holds power can be uncomfortable and risky. It may lead to discovering abuses of power and painful histories alongside forcing us to critically examine our own culpability. Courtney Johnson, Director of Audiences and Insight at Te Papa, New Zealand has written about this territory in her blog.
"As much as we may have liked to believe in the past that we exist above the political fray, museums are the products of colonialist and capitalist systems, as exposed to and implicated in abuses of power as any other institution emerging from these contexts
For several decades now we have acted as if somehow museums are a neutralising force, a separate space …. And to some extent that is true, and that is what we have taught our audience to expect: it is true, because we have made it so."
Best of 3 Blogspot, Courtney Johnson (2019)
Bristol is a very particular place and a challenging historical, political and social context within which present a culturally democratic arts centre. Johnson reminds us that ‘museums are still capable of doing violence – unknowingly, or thoughtlessly’. However, without revisiting what Nora Sternfield refers to as ‘battles over understanding and hegemony’, how can cultural institutions become truly permeable and confident enough to have their purpose, identity and cultural narratives challenged and so move toward a more democratic co-produced future?
Artist and curator Sophie Hope describes such territory in her blog stating,
"What about forms of cultural action which don’t fit comfortably with morally, socially correct forms of participation? What about the embarrassing encounters, the awkward bits?....how do we also acknowledge the power structures, battles and structural inequalities…Where are the feminist, queer, decolonial, embedded approaches to research and practice?"
Sophie Hope, Blog, Cultural Democracy is Alive! (2018)
Hope stresses the importance of looking beyond the superficial, positive narratives that are often spun around engagement and participation, to openly and actively explore the challenging, difficult histories too.
I am confident the Education Archives contains a tiny fragment of the administration learning and education has generated at Arnolfini since the 1960s. I may never know how the Education Archive’s surviving materials were selected and what stories and connections have been lost. The gaps, tensions and omissions tell hidden stories that I would like to bring to light.
In BBC 4s ‘Whoever Heard of a Black Artist, Britain’s Hidden Art History’ (2019), Lubaina Himid talks about how artists involved in The BLK Group (founded 1979), were making conscious efforts to communicate with each other or ‘communicate like they meant it’ by writing letters, exchanging telephone numbers and making calls from the one telephone in the hall way. Being ‘in touch’ and creating networks outside of the walls of an established institution before social media and email was an intentional, intimate and engaged act that took time. The programme also deftly connected artists led networks and curatorial practices with what was happening socially and politically across the UK during the 80s and 90s. The themes of archives, hidden stories and revisiting the past weave and thread through the programme, from flickering video footage of Eddie Chambers talking to camera from the 1980s through to Sonia Boyce and presenter Brenda Emmanus poignantly and emotionally making sense of the remains of Li Yuan-chia’s LYC Museum in Cumbria. Throughout the programme Brenda visits museum and gallery archives; I recognise something in her spontaneous, embodied response when she unwraps artefacts. Archives irrefutably hold power.
The LYC Museum provided a central focus for ‘Speech Acts, Reflection – Imagination – Repetition’ at Manchester Art Gallery May – April 2019, curated by Hammad Nasar with Kate Jesson. In the Forwards to the Exhibition Guide (in the form of a newspaper) Sonia Boyce writes,
"Since childhood, I have been fascinated by the museum. I was always lured by the splendour of it’s objects, the sense of wonderment produced by it’s displays, and it’s imposing façade that upholds a quiet authoritative certitude in the stories that it tells."
Boyce talks about her research as an academic leading the Black Artists and Modernism (BAM) research project and how this has fuelled her curiosity about "what kind of stories are told by museums and how’. Her questions ‘What is held and displayed by the country’s public art collections? When the art work makes it way into a display, what kind of context frames that display and how are those works interpreted?’" resonate with my research. I want to explore the social and political contexts that framed Arnolfini’s education, participation, outreach, learning and access. In the Exhibition Guide the curators of Speech Acts, Hammad Nasar and Kate Jesson ask "why some works become ‘highlights’ while others lie forgotten in storage; which stories frame our encounters with art and what we see, but cloak the art that we don’t? Do these stories change over time?’"
Whose stories and participation frame Arnolfini's gallery education archive?
Who isn't in the archive?
Do the stories of who Arnolfini engaged with change over time? If so how and why?
During the late 70s, 80s and 90s Arnolfini occupied a privileged position in Bristol; it was a publicly funded arts organisation, with the ability to create a sphere of influence stretching from Bristol across the globe. Katy McCleod (Arnolfini’s first Education Officer in the 1970s) creates the impression of Arnolfini and the art world as a scene or network,
‘It was so exciting being here… It was my best job ever… those days at Arnolfini, no day was too long. You used to get to work and all these things were happening…. There was hardly anyone in the late 70’s and 80’s who didn’t go from Arnolfini into nationally important jobs….
Katy Macloed Interview with Phil Owen
The Education Advisory Panel (also referred to as the Education Working Group or Education Steering Committee) was initiated by Arnolfini’s Development Director in 1990. A group of arts and educational professionals were invited to meet with Arnolfini's Director, Development Director, Education Liason Officer and Arts Access Officer quarterly over the course of a year to explore the future of education at the arts centre. Participants included Jon Thompson (artist and Head of Fine Art at Goldsmiths, London), Mona Hartoum (London based artist teaching in Cardiff) and Paul Gough (artist and Head of Art, Bristol Polytechnic). What survives of the Education Advisory Panel is a file of letters inviting participants to meetings, communication with caterers, agendas and meeting minutes. Some of these documents tell me what the group ate and drank whilst other documents contain subtle hints of tensions between Arnolfini and the cultural and social ecologies it was part of. For example: a letter written by the Development Director to an Education Advisory Panel member describes the institution’s difficulties in identifying someone from Bristol who they feel would be a suitable representative of ‘ethnic interests’, stating ‘ethnic minority’ communities were very political in the city. The minutes from another meeting explores Arnolfini's relationship with Community Arts. The ideas expressed in these documents are reflective of the era they were produced in; I assert there is value returning these situations, even though the institution has undoubtedly developed it's position.
Education Advisory Panel Minutes (1990), Credit Bristol Archives
In Exhibition Guide for Speech Acts Alistair Hudson, the Director of Manchester Art Gallery and The Whitworth talks about how museums and cultural centres can provide platforms for us to ask questions about power, representation and the civic role of public museums and galleries in the 21st Century. I would like to extend this to ask:
How can archives can become radical platforms that question how control and power can be constructed?
How can archives support cultural organisations explore ways of sharing control over their future?
What can Arnolfini’s archives tell us about a cultural organisation’s power, representation and civic role and how these change over time?
I am not a digital native.
I don't yet understand how I will test the application of participatory media as my PhD evolves.
The vast majority of the contents of Arnolfini's Education Archive are not digitally native either. However I rely digital media to process data in a variety of ways. For example I am annotating the archive catalogue in the form of an Excel spreadsheet, digitally photographing documents and filing jpegs in One Drive, googling people, events and organisations referenced in the archives, consulting with my peers on social media as my research evolves and focusing and disseminating my thinking through this blog.
How am I already exploiting digital technology to further my research?
How could participatory media further enhance my research?
How could I work with an archive that is mainly paper based (with a little audio and VHS) in a digital environment?
How could reactivations including; re-enactment, discussions and exhibitions be situated in an online participatory environment and vice versa?
How can online participatory media, including podcasts and social media, disrupt the conventions of cultural criticism and production?
Participatory media can invert power structures and disrupt who controls culture. The White Pube is a website set up by Gabrielle de la Puente and Zarina Muhammad, two young women in their early 20s. Together they have made space for apologetically critiquing art and the art world on their own terms. It is homespun, energetic, deeply political, self irreverent, deadly serious and at times a little naive. Morgan Quaintence wrote this about The White Pube in 2017;
‘"n criticism...The White Pube’ presents one of the first truly new voices in British art criticism in the twenty–first century, and most importantly its writers have risen to prominence without the help or patronage of Art Review, Art Monthly, Frieze, or any of the other publication or established platforms in the UK. Informal yet stylistically innovative, art historically rigorous without the staid academicism or florid pomposity of much established writing, the pair’s mix of reviews, essays, podcasts, and social media posts are bound together with a singular critical voice grappling with contemporary issues of race, gender, sexuality, aesthetics and ethics."
The New Conservatism: Complicity and the UK Art World's Performance of Progression, Morgan Quaintance, e-flux, (2017)
The (virtual) spaces de la Puente and Muhammad have created echo Carmen Mörsch's processual spaces for change, their activism can be described as Nora Sternfield's battles over understanding and hegemony. They are undermining established cultural practices. I am twice their age, their approach isn't something I will personally replicate but will carefully consider how I might test out their activist, gorilla tactics.
The White Pube, (2019)
Participatory media including platforms such as Graph Commons have the capacity to make networks and relationships visible
Graph Commons Video (2019)
The Cartography Research Project (TCRP) mapped 'socially engaged participatory art practices in art museums and galleries through an online platform’ and more specifically visualised 'an evolving networked structure, bringing to light major players, under the radar movements, and transitory projects to visualise their labour, aesthetics and impacts over the years’.
TCRP extends an open invitation to co-author an evolving, online relational catalogue through adding or adapting existing data in the form of edges, nodes, connections. Follow this link to the full TCRP map.
Screenshots of The Cartography Research Project
When I encountered the mutating and shifting TCRP network diagrams I was mesmerised. I imagined creating a Graph Commons map of individuals, organisations and projects referenced in Arnolfini's archives, in order to analyse and shed light on how the subjects relate to institution and each other.
TCRP mapping workshop (2018)
In 2012 Roma Piotrowska identified the following tendencies in independent co-curated archival projects,
"(they are) usually devoted to neglected subjects, forgotten, marginalised artists or art movements. They very often use oral history, community engagement and mapping – the creation of timelines and maps aiming to illustrate the whole spectrum of presented material."
engage 31: The Past in the Present, 2012
Roma's observations describe elements of Barby Asante's South London Black Music Archive (SLBM), which aimed to 'celebrate, preserve and investigate South Londoners’ personal relationships with moments in black music history.' Asante transformed Peckham Platform into an ‘open archive’ and welcomed contributions from the surrounding community about music that inspired them, in the form of personal stories and music ephemera. Roma interviewed Barby, for her blog, about the different elements of the project including an evolving map, a cataloguing process and a display of selected artefacts. Barby Asante, author of the South London Black Music Archive, in conversation about archives, personal, unofficial histories and gaps in archives also explores how SLBMA developed in relation to Barby's experiences of working with Bristol Archives and The Bamboo Club as part of Down At The Bamboo Club 2008. SBLMA was presented as an open archive in Tate Modern later in 2012.
Credit Barby Asante
Unlike The White Pube and TCRP, SLBMA does not have an online platform. TCRP and SLBMA rely on gathering people together in a cultural space, offline, to encounter each other, share ideas, stories and histories. All these projects seek to expand cultural narratives and create change.
How can I justify collaborating with internal staff rather than seeking to expand who narrates the institution with audiences and participants?
How can I avoid developing a research methodology that further serves the solipsistic tendencies of institutions?
How could I test out my ideas and make connections with socially engaged artist led projects and organisations?
As well as considering how participatory media has the capacity to; develop activist critical voices, map archival networks and ecologies, I've been thinking about the materiality of Arnolfini's archives and how artefacts have the power to 'take you back' or return you to a moment. I've been reflecting on artists who are experimenting with immersive technologies in order to re-imagine how we engage with archives alongside decentring our narratives about the past.
Professor Jon Dovey attempts to define what immersion can be in the publication accompanying South West Creative Technology’s Framing Immersion event in Bristol earlier July 2019;
"One is about a complete whole body experience of being surrounded by content in, for instance immersive theatre, art installations and dance floors; the other where these kinds of wraparound sensory experiences are industrially re-constituted through various forms of technology – notably virtual reality but also augmented and mixed realities."
Jon Dovey, South West Creative Technology (2019)
Coral Manton presented Shared Pasts: Decoding Complexity as part of the South West Creative Technology’s Afternoon Immersion Showcase; this project aims to challenge people’s potential bias in their approach to history, by enabling people to orientate themselves to see diverse outlooks via an intuitive interface and machine learning system of ‘recommendations’ based on seeing/experiencing alternative narratives.
Shared Pasts: Decoding Complexity by Coral Manton - SWCTN Immersion Prototype (2019)
Nomad is a collaborative project by Abira Hussein and Mnemoscene and "explores the creative use of immersive mixed reality and web based technology to contexturalise archival Somali objects with the people and traditions to which they belong'" Participants are invited to contribute objects that are photographed and animated and contexturalised through mixed reality Micrcosoft HoloLens and audio.
Tom Marshman’s theatre show Kings Cross (Remix) uncovers the hidden histories of LGBTQ communities in London during the 1980s. He combines oral history recordings, maps, and video footage with his own presence on stage; the result is an immersive, mixed reality live art.
Tom Marshman (2019)
There are two moments in Tom's show that I keep returning to. Firstly, a segment where Tom performs gestures that reference the repetitive actions of a barman behind a translucent screen whilst archive footage of a fire juggler is projected directly over and alongside him. It’s a beautifully constructed duet. Secondly, when he lip syncs to a woman’s oral history recordings. It’s so simple, paired down, stripped back and raw. The result is uncanny. She is here, absent and present through Tom. He takes us to an in between place and invites us into to step into the past and re-think or re-member something deeply poetic about memory, place, community, relationships and identity.
Tom so deftly and gently plays with technology to retell and share stories.
There is much material in Arnolfini’s archives that I would play with immersively, that is directly informed by my photocopying experiments with my mum’s image.
There is a report written for the Arts Council about a dance project; the photographs documenting the project process have already been photocopied so many times that they are almost rendered useless in giving any sense of the events they are meant to record.
Ballet Rambert Arts Council Evaluation Report, File 5, Box 3, Arnolfini Education Archives,Bristol Archives (1989)
There are the handwritten notes for a talk by a gallery educator to a group of visually impaired students, describing a creative process involving art students and participants in remaking 3D forms out of clay, not by sight but by using their sense of touch. What would happen if this was reactivated through re-enactment? How could the re-enactment sit alongside the original archival material?
Handwritten presentation notes by Jeanette McSkimming, Education Liason Officer,File 4, Box 2, Arnolfini Education Archives, Bristol Archives (1987)
I am thinking about letters in the archive that make me feel uncomfortable and others that made me catch my breath in shock.
Memories hold power.
Arnolfini's institutional memories demand to be collectively revisited, recirculated, reconsidered and reimagined.
The power and control infused in those memories must be shared and disrupted too.