In 2006 and 2007, I organised a series of conferences – accompanied by exhibitions, screenings and doctoral training events – that took place in Belfast, Newcastle upon Tyne, and Sunderland in the UK. Performing the Archive was supported by an AHRC major research award, and involved a core team of myself, Professor Kerstin Mey and archivist Grainne Loughran. Across the five events, we collaborated with Universities and arts organisations across the UK, curating events that featured participants from a wider network that included heritage councils, public records offices, and independent archives. In sum, over 50 artists, archivists, theorists, curators, doctoral students, academics, civil servants and historians from around the UK and Europe presented their work in an interdisciplinary and experimental staging of art, archives, contemporary culture and ideas.
“Since the end of the 20th century, the archive – both as an institution and a metaphor – has increasingly become a crucial focal point, not only in cultural discourses but for creative and engaged practices, because central societal developments and issues intersect and are amplified in this space. Digitisation has provided new formats and capacity for data storage, processing and distribution with a previously unknown mobility and fluidity of information migration across diverse cultural and social domains.
The growing interest, inquiries, and in(ter)ventions in archiving from the dynamic and compound area of art practices concern a range of aspects including a) archiving as a significant social practice b) the role and functions of cultural archives under the conditions of global capitalism; c) its function for the (re-)construction of memories and narratives of different socio-cultural groups/formations and their cultural heritage(s); the role of ‘historical records’ in the (trans)formation of collective values, situated identities and social agency; d) archives as a living resource and producer of publics and responsibilities in civil society; e) processes of documenting, archiving, disseminating cultural practice(s).”
Event One: Investigating Archives, 25th November 2006, Linen, Hall Library, Belfast
Investigating Archives was the first event in the series and opened up the exploration of cultural archives. Traditional archiving perspectives were placed in tension with emergent approaches by artists and cultural activists who are proactive in documenting their work. The event also brought together those who are opposed to the concept of archiving and those who have thought of alternative approaches to preserve memories and construct narratives. Finally, it considered what impact archivists and the structure of the archive have on the interpretation, meaning and intention of materials. A range of archival materials – including photographs, ephemera and a range of printed matter – were activated in an exhibition that accompanied the event.
Hugh Maguire (Museums and Archives Officer, The Heritage Council, Ireland) John Gray (Librarian, Linen Hall Library, Belfast)
Nick Stewart (artist, London)
Judit Bodor (Curator and former Researcher at Artpool, Budapest) Julie Bacon (Researcher Interface and artist, Belfast)
Pat Cooke (Director, MA in Cultural Arts Policy, UCD, Dublin) Walid Raad (The Atlas Group, Beirut/New York)
Event Two: Interacting with the Archive: creative approaches, 22 March 2007, The National Glass Centre, Sunderland, UK
This event investigated interaction with archives across a range of disciplines, including art, photography, history and curating. It explored how personal and private collections become archives through their placement within wider social, political and historical contexts. It also considered a range of creative approaches to working with archival materials. The day focused on the interaction of research-based practices and the Archive, considering different types of archive and modes of creative engagement with them. The event attempted to uncover the processes of formulating an archive, examining questions around what an archive is and how archives come about.
Stuart Brisley (Peterlee Project)
Sophie Spencer-Wood (Picture Editor, Phaidon)
Val Williams (writer, curator & Director of PARC)
Marjolaine Ryley (artist/photographer working with issues around personal archives and collections)
Stuart Howard (historian working with the NEMARC mining archive)
Event Three: Per-Forming The Archive, 28 March 2007, The Culture Lab, Newcastle
The third installment in the series centered on current innovative strategies of curating and activating cultural archives, and considered ways of enhancing the current and future potential for creative engagement with archival resources. The event looked at individual and organisational strategies, as well as new technological processes, for databasing and preserving archival material and the conservation of digital and analogue media.
Stephen Foster (Director, John Hansard Gallery, University of Southampton)
Anne Bean (Installation and performance artist)
Victoria Worsley (Archivist, Henry Moore Institute Archive)
Stephen Partridge (Media artist, producer and curator)
Sue Breakell (Head of the Archive section within Tate’s Library and Archive)
Event Four: Facilitating The Archive, 27 April 2007, Interface, University of Ulster, Belfast
Facilitating The Archive explored the practical issues of managing databases/archives, particularly in relation to digitisation, access and narrative pathways through the information source. Training workshops looked at issues of archiving artifacts from performances (physical tapes, photographs, documentation), and explored how these are and can be made available digitally. The participants explored platforms for the digitisation of programmes, web publishing, on-line catalogues and the relationship between the digital version and the ‘original’. The implications of new platforms for processes of documenting creative practice were also examined.
Professor Kerstin Mey (Chair in Fine Art, Interface) Una Walker (artist, Belfast)
Dr Gerry Slater (Director, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Belfast)
Dr Marta Bustillo (Visual Resources Librarian, NCAD, Dublin)
Anthony Haughey (artist and Senior Research Fellow, Interface)
David Monahan (Photographer, Ireland)
Sarah Pierce (artist and Research Associate, Interface)
Event Five: Consensus Contention, 22-23rd June 2007, Interface, Ulster Unversity, Catalyst Arts and Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast
The final event in the series synthesised and moved on from the proceeding events, taking the consideration of artistic interest in archives into discussion of the broader cultural significance of archiving, in its political, poetic and economic aspects. Papers, roundtables, screenings and an exhibition considered the role of archiving in contemporary culture, “from surveillance to art documentation, from data-mining to landfill.” A major exhibition of work from the archives of Locus+ commissioning agency was hung throughout Ulster University gallery spaces and in response to the architecture. A screening event was held at Catalyst Arts featuring works by participants, as well as the presentation of the five-screen Borderlines project by Anthony Haughey.
Professor Kerstin Mey (Chair in Fine Art, Interface) Julie Louise Bacon (Researcher Interface and artist, Belfast)
Victoria Worsely (Archivist Henry Moore Foundation Leeds) John Gray (Librarian Linen Hall Library, Belfast)
Anthony Haughey (Artist, Research Fellow Interface, and coordinator of the Borderlines project)
Chris Dorsett (Artist and curator of art projects that interact with the collections and spaces of non-art museums)
Peter Haining (artist and curator, Dundee)
Megs Morley (curator, and Irish Artist Led Archive Justin McKeown (artist, and Irish Artist Led Archive) Roland Miller (Artist, Sheffield)
Stewart Home (writer, London)
Dr Gerry Slater (Director of Public Record Office of Northern Ireland) Chris Coppock (Director Ffotogallery, Cardiff)
Artist-led groups from around Northern Ireland, Scotland, England, Ireland and Holland.