I have already started to post some initial ideas here.
I would like to incorporate spirals into the archive somewhere as they are a motif I keep returning to. I would like to explore how they have been interpreted over time, but also how they represent time itself too. There are links there to the Spiral Jetty, Celtic symbology, geometry, astronomy that I would like to tie together somehow.
Then earlier in the course I did get into looking at desk, work and the history of the office. This is something that could be fascinating to archive and particularly linked to the recent global pandemic which made more people work from home and that boundary between work and home became more blurred. Expanding on that, maybe an archive of the pandemic itself as it was a hugely significant period in our recent history. I feel like I would do something very specific though as the pandemic itself is huge.
Then of course there is my love of the ancient Druids and linking it to Mnemosyne and creating a similar Atlas style but with Druid gods and goddesses and how they have been interpreted over time. Perhaps creating ‘fake’ photos to create their heritage.
Warburg’s attempt to ‘map the afterlife of antiquity’, focused on the renaissance. He chose Mnemosyne, the Greek goddess of memory and mother of the muses, as the patron saint of his project. Warburg created large black panels onto which he attached black and white images in a kind of grid. The photographs grouped together showed various appropriations of art objects and things such as developments in the representation of Mars over time.
It is a map of how images of great symbolic, intellectual, and emotional power emerge in Western antiquity and then reappear and are reanimated in the art and cosmology of later times and places, from Alexandrian Greece to Weimar Germany. Focusing especially on the Renaissance, the historical period where he found the struggle between the forces of reason and unreason to be most palpable, Warburg hoped that the Mnemosyne Atlas would allow its spectators to experience for themselves the “polarities” that riddle culture and thought. Warburg believed that these symbolic images, when juxtaposed and then placed in sequence, could foster immediate, synoptic insights.
The Atlas functions cartographically, too, as it explores how meanings are constituted by the movement of themes and styles between East and West, North and South.
In its “last version,” the Mnemosyne Atlas consisted of sixty-three panels. Using wooden boards, measuring approximately 150 x 200 cm and covered with black cloth, Warburg arranged and rearranged, in a lengthy combinatory process of addition and subtraction, black and white photographs of art-historical and cosmographical images. Here and there he also included photographs of maps, manuscript pages, and contemporary images drawn from newspapers and magazines. The individual panels, in turn, were then numbered and ordered to create still larger thematic sequences.
The actual panels of the “last version” are no longer extant; only black and white photographs (18 x 24 cm) of them remain, held in the archives of the Warburg Institute.
This piece absolutely fascinates me. From a cultural, historical and emotional point of view. I find it incredibly interesting to see someone think about the Renaissance and links to the classical period like this, Greek myths are a huge interest of mine and I am always interested in how the Renaissance took some of these images. It goes back to an earlier thought I had in the course about doing something similar but with Celtic mythology. What fascinates me about the Celts is their almost been forgotten unlike the Greek and Roman Gods. Why is this? What would a Renaissance reimagining of Celtic gods look like?
Witness is a sound installation, but also an archive. The installation consists of 350 speakers suspended from the ceiling, in a darkened room, lit by artificial blue lights. Each speaker plays different audio recordings of people from all over the world recounting their experience of witnessing a UFO or similarly unexplained phenomena. The recordings are in multiple languages, and create a cacophony of voices, at times going quiet and allowing just one voice to speak. The work was initially shown in an abandoned Baptist chapel in London and has since been exhibited at multiple national and international museums and festivals. The stories, though some are read by actors where written accounts have been found or provided, are not presented with any bias from Hiller, or with extra dramatisation added for effect; they create an almost factual, documentary account.
Susan Hiller’s Witness has many archival elements. It consists of a large number of different audio recordings and is presented not just as a playlist but in a constructed way to add to the meaning of the clips. They have a common theme around UFO stories. The archive tells a very specific curated story. The room it places the archive in a context, the room is dark with artificial blue lights to add to the atmosphere of UFOs and otherworldly experiences. The way in which the clips are presented also adds to this, they aren’t just one at a time but there are multiple languages being spoken at once, with periods of silence. This adds to the chaos and slightly spooky unsettling feeling.
By presenting this work as audio rather than text, it places the people behind the stories at the root. This is about the people as much as the stories they tell. By having the recordings by people or actors we get that human element.
The work is multilingual to show the global impact of these stories, I think it helps to unite humanity as one against UFOs. It acts as a unifier as it doesn’t matter what language you are speaking, it shows these stories span cultures and nationalities. Another example of how we often have more in common than differences. I think it also adds to the sense of chaos, that it is difficult to pick out just one character, as you listen you flit between people, accents and languages. We are encouraged to listen to the overall hum and not the individuals.
Exhibiting in a chapel builds a sense of atmosphere. There is a strange effect of having the piece at the top of a spiral staircase in a chapel. Almost like you are descending to the UFOs themselves. The space also allows shadows to play a role. Of course, it being a chapel evokes religious and spiritual feelings, are these UFOs or a calling from the heavens? In Jonathan Jones’s piece in the Guardian about the experience, he describes that “a babble of voices talk at once, muttering like the voices of the dead or the legion of the damned” (Jones, 2000).
I don’t think the work is trying to make us believe in UFOs. Rather telling the stories of those who have had an experience. There is a certain conviction in the number of stories, that how can this happen to so many people if UFOs aren’t real? However, I think this is an unbiased piece that allows us to make our own judgement.
This is different from a documentary as there is little of the artist’s own views in there. There is no narrative to go along with, just the pure experiences of the voices and the atmosphere. We aren’t informed, we are left to make a judgement.
Case Study 2: Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunye, The Fae Richards Photo Archive (1993–1996)
Work was made to accompany a feature-length film by Duny called The Watermelon Woman. The film follows Dunye trying to find out about the life of a black actress who has an unrecognised or uncredited role in a film called Plantation Memories, and is referred to only as ‘the watermelon woman’. Dunye’s film follows the fictional life of Fae Richards, an African American lesbian blues singer and actress, who Dunye images as the person that played the watermelon woman. This fictional film is used to highlight the fact that next to no archival information about black actresses (and no information at all about black lesbian actresses) was kept or recorded in archives, and so the artists created their own archive, The Fae Richards Photo Archive, in lieu of any actual archival findings. The work consists of 82 black and white photos that have been staged and enacted by Dunye, Leonard and other actors, alongside a cast list, and photo captions that were typed on a type-writer to give them an authentic appearance.
The archive was made to give a voice to a marginalised group of people. That no information about black lesbian actresses was kept meant that this was imagined.
It is made to look like an old archive to give it a sense of realism that this is to represent those voices that have been lost. The idea that these could have been real photos and text lifted from a real person from history.
In making this as a film, a book and an installation it helped to spread the word of this story. Like a real person from history may be celebrated in many ways, this gives them dimension. As though you could look up the different media to corroborate the story and make them seem more real.
There are still clues that this is fictional and that is important. As it highlights that this has had to be faked due to no real images or even knowledge of who these actresses were.
Case Study 3: Ilya & Emilia Kabakov, The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away (1988)
This work is both a piece of creative writing and an installation. The text was written in 1977, and was used to accompany an exhibition in 1988 of the same name, though it’s also known as The Garbage Man. The installation is in a small, narrow room, which, apart from a small bed, looks like a kind of museum with glass cases, cabinets and shelves filled with jars which all contain items that would usually be thrown away, like buttons, tin cans, old boots etc. Each item has a label on it with a catalogue number and a description.
Idiosyncratic collections probing into particular figures, objects and events. There are many examples in art of these archival impulses. It was active prewar and even more so after.
In the first instance archival artists seek to make historical information, often lost or displaced, physically present. They elaborate on the found image, object, and text, and favour the installation format as they do so.
Sometimes archival samplings push the postmodernist complications of originality and authorship to an extreme.
Yet the term also suggests a changed status in the work of art in an age of digital information, which is said to follow those of industrial production and mass consumption. The ideal medium of archival art is the mega archive of the Internet, and over the last decade terms that evoke the electronic network, such as “platforms” and “stations,” have appeared in art parlance, as has the Internet rhetoric of “interactivity.
The archives at issue here are not databases in this sense; they are recalcitrant material, fragmentary rather than fungible, and as such, they call out for human interpretation, not machinic reprocessing.
In this regard archival art is as much preproduction as it is postproduction: concerned less with absolute origins than with obscure traces.
Further, it often arranges these materials according to a quasi-archival logic, a matrix of citation and juxtaposition, and presents them in a quasi-archival architecture, a complex of texts and objects (again, platforms, stations, kiosks . . . ). Thus Dean speaks of her method as “collection,” Durant of his as “combination,” Hirschhorn of his as “ramification.
Through mutations of connection and disconnection, this art also serves.
In a sense, Dean’s archival work is an allegory of archival work-as sometimes melancholic, often vertiginous, and always incomplete.
Perhaps the paranoid dimension of archival art is the other utopian ambition-its desire to turn belatedness into becomingness, failed visions in art, literature, philosophy, and everyday life into possible alternative kinds of social relations, to transform the no-place into the no-place of a utopia.
An archive is not just a database. It needs careful culturing and selection of materials.
Archiving isn’t new.
It is also different to curating a museum display.
The development of an archive can be as interesting as the finished product.
After reading the article I think I have a better understanding of what an archive is. Before reading I was thinking more along the lines of a database or museum collection but I think there are distinct differences. The creative process involves selecting and constructing the items. You aren’t just cataloguing everything you find or make about a certain subject. The process is more about careful consideration of what goes in and how that item tells the overall story. You aren’t just there to offer a balanced opinion like a museum collection would. An archive can tell a very political story if needed. Of course, everyone will make up their own mind after experiencing it, but you shouldn’t be afraid to make a statement through it.
One item I made which immediately springs to mind is a quilt I made out of my daughter’s old baby clothes. At the time I didn’t think of it as creating an archive but it has many of the qualities. I didn’t just make it from all of the clothes, but there was careful consideration about which pieces to keep. It is a quilt full of memories that evokes a feeling of nostalgia when I look at it. She uses it regularly too – hence some of the holes! It is very much a living piece. When I made it, it was out of the need to be able to keep some of the clothes but in a useful way as I wouldn’t have had the space to keep everything, and if I did then they would have been hidden away in storage. By making this, it meant I a regularly reminded of a time gone by.
Foster, H. (2004). An Archival Impulse. October, 110, pp.3–22.
‘time and space bound, perpetually connected to events in the past’
Sue Breakall, ‘Perspectives: Negotiating the Archive’, Tate Papers no. 9, Spring, (2008).
Artists often use archives to present and produce their work.
The word ‘archive’ comes from the Greek for governments as they were traditionally historical records kept in a physical location. The digital era has changed that and archives have become much wider spread.
Archives typically consist of ‘ephemera‘, that is items which weren’t initially intended to be kept for a long time. In the process of storing them in an archive, they are given a new status.
Jeremy Deller’s work An Injury to One is an Injury to All, is an installation, perhaps even a kind of collaborative performance work, but it can also be seen as an archive. Deller is recreating an event from the past, in the present. He uses people and their stories, newspaper reports, and memories as archives from which to represent a historical moment, which then becomes an archive itself.
Natural Disaster Archive
One type of archive I came across recently was archives made by Digital Humanities projects to document natural disasters. Archives such as UC CEISMIC.
Why are some things on the wall and some in cabinets?
The archive is a selection of items that all seem related to the union-police conflict during a time of protest. There are photos, texts, documents, videos and artwork. On closer inspection, they are all related to the miner strikes of 1984. Upon reading the information on the Tate website, the materials are actually split into two rooms. There is a mix of items from the original event and Deller’s reenactment in 2001.
Some specific items of interest include a denim jacket studded with union enamel badges, a police riot shield, original newspapers, graffiti photos, timelines, books, video of the events, vinyl map of Britain.
The slogan – “An injury to one is an injury to all” is from the Industrial Workers of the World and is a humanist appeal for solidarity.
Context and Interpretation
Name – Jeremy Deller Nationality – English Title of Work – The Battle of Orgreaves Archive Date of Completion – 2001 Medium – archive of many types of item Where can it be found – Not currently on display
The slogan underlines the message of the work. For Deller, the events at Orgreave resembled the events of the civil war, medieval and brutal. Deller has explained how the memory of seeing the original news reports as an eighteen-year-old affected him and led him later to engage with the social divisions created by the events surrounding the miners’ strike:
For Deller, the specific historical event that unfolded at Orgreave represented the destruction of mining communities as well as the wider social fabric of the working class during the Thatcher government.
The 2001 reconstruction took place in Orgreave on 17 June, and its cast and expertise were drawn from more than twenty historical re-enactment societies under the direction of the re-enactment tactician Howard Giles, along with veterans of the original conflict drawn from both sides of the battle lines. However, while re-enactments usually serve to investigate what might have happened, or to offer a re-interpretation, even a corrective, to history, Deller’s intention was, as the curator Ralph Rugoff explains, ‘to openly acknowledge that any history is inevitably impure, highly mediated, and in need of being re-written’.
For this work, as with most of his projects, Deller interacted and engaged with different social groups or communities to produce artwork that can take many forms. Some of his other projects have been realised in the form of an exhibition, a march, a book, an installation, a discussion, a road trip or a convention. Instead of making objects, Deller is an artist who curates the unfolding of situations between groups of people.
I find this piece by Deller along with the reenactment footage to be incredibly powerful. The miner strikes are something I live through too, growing up in the 80s in Yorkshire and my family were heavily involved in them. It feels even more important in the current climate to look back at these times as we seem to be entering another period of civil unrest with multiple strikes planned this summer. The world has just come out of chaos with the pandemic and it seems more than ever we need to band together, but the opposite is happening. Pieces like this by Deller make us reflect on times gone by when there were huge conflicts and by comparing it to the English civil war he makes us think even more about if we ever really learn anything from history>