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AP1: archiving and collections

Through processes of experimentation and creating work I have found myself to be very much engaged with the process of collecting and archiving. My practice has become a series of actions: collecting, moving, reframing, remaking, archiving, placing, moving, replacing and reduplicating.

archive /ˈɑːkʌɪv/

verb gerund or present participle: archiving

  1. place or store (something) in an archive. Similar: file, log, catalogue, pigeonhole, store, record, register, chronicle, cache, document, put on record, post

I often look at dictionary definitions as an entry way into understanding concepts and ideas - I have an interest in words and related works - words that speak to a process or an action - these often directly inspire the titles for my artworks.

collect /kəˈlɛkt/

verb gerund or present participle: collecting

1. bring or gather together (a number of things). "he went round the office collecting old coffee cups" Similar: gather, accumulate, assemble, amass, stockpile, pile up

As with collecting - there is this further element of bringing together of objects - this functions in a similar way to assemblage as that is a process of combining multiple different objects to create a final installation or composition.

Mark Dion (b. 1961), The Texas Cabinet (detail), 2020, wooden cabinet filled with objects from Dion’s travels

Mark Dion is a key example of an artist interested in processes of archiving. His cabinet series plays on the historically loaded relationship between archives, the museum and traditional display formats such as vitrines, draws and cabinets. These museological tendencies are very apparent in his cabinet series, with many objects sourced from the artists travels being particularly collated and ordered, displayed in series. There is a scientific investigation into these objects, filing them into specific categories which further allows the viewer to build their own relationships between different materials - e.g. works are collated based on size, material, subject matter or colour.

Tate (2021) describes artists who work with archives as consisting of documentation, - this is a very important aspect of an arts practice such as the documentation of physical activities such as performances - aspect of what remains of an artwork - can a photograph capture the same essence as the performance? There are also artists who's work is directly informed by archival material such as Jeremy Deller's 2001 The Battle of Orgreave Archive (An Injury to One is an Injury to All) where the artist organised a re-enactment of the clashes between police and striking miners in Orgreave in 1984.

Jeremy Deller, The Battle of Orgreave Archive (An Injury to One is an Injury to All), 2001

The work was directly influenced by research on that period, combining elements from different archival objects such as videos and cassette recordings - builds on an element of nostalgia - explores archives through the lens of society critique. Explores the power of the archive - way of engaging with archive material - performing the archive and re-adapting and re-understanding it. Allows people to re-evaluate and re-consider the historic past - possibly to reflect on the present.

Installation Art and the Practices of Archivalism

List of artists:

Samuel Beckett, Christian Boltanski, Arnold Dreyblatt, Walid Raad, Miroslaw Balka, Silvia Kolbowski, Eija-Lissa Ahtila and Antom Egoyan, Hans-Peter Feldman and Hans Ulrich Obrist.

'Archive fever' used to characterise contemporary cultural memory, with the "twin dynamics of erasure and repetition [helping] shape our compulsion to archive and which, in archivalism, characterise the compulsive re-enactment of the traumatic past (Jones, 2016, p. 1). It is interesting to consider how archives can offer re-enactment - there is clear relationship between the past and the physical object - how objects can allow people to revisit past experiences - explore how other people/societies/social groups experiences the world or a particular events. An archive acts as a form of portal to the past.

Understand the role of the camera as an "archiving machine" - photographs are assumed to function as an 'analogue of a substantiated real or putative fact'. - explores the tension between 'photography's promise of truth-telling and the 'vast, shapeless empire of images' which has arisen from file sharing (Jones, 2016, p. 1). This is a very critical exploration of the role of the camera - new way of considering the device - photographs are the main form of archive material - captures a moment in time - allows us to revisit these moments. Can consider how this production method can be related to an arts practice - e.g. can the photograph be performed, reimagined or transformed into a different state?

However, (Jones, 2016) describes how archival art does not necessarily need to include the actual archive but instead can be functioning where an artist employs archival techniques or processes in the creation of their own work - e.g. through processes of collecting or narrativising their own artworks and placing them into contexts that allow them to be read as archival. (Jones, 2016) describes the various practices of archivalism, specifically exploring how processes of installation art are able to activate the archive, physically presenting it to the viewer and allowing the to connect, relate to and physically experience the archive - exploring ideas of pain, nostalgia and loss.

This is a useful reference in allowing me to consider how I approach archivalism. Within my own work I feel that I do not engage with pre-existing archives through an interest in particular history or social research but I do incorporate processes of archivalism within my work such as through a process of collecting and arranging found objects as a way of making sense and building connections within found material.

Future references:

Ingrid Schaffer - deep storage

Okwui Enwezor, archive fever, uses of the document in contemporary art

Ruth Rosengarten, between memory and document

Foucalt, The archaeology of knowledge

Sophie Berrebi, The shape of evidence

Lisa Darmsm, review: archive fever

Sue Breakellm perspectives: negotiating the archive

Judy Vakin, All this stuff, archiving the artist


Jones, D., 2016. Installation Art and the Practices of Archivalism. 2nd ed. Taylor and Francis.


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