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AP1: Hal Foster - An Archival Impulse


As a starting point for my research I am immediately interested in the action of archiving - specifically though collecting everyday objects, fragmented objects, cast away, both urban and natural or geological, those which I encounter. I am interested in these types of objects for their aesthetic - from an interest in pattern, form, shape, outline, fragmentation, colour, texture, the torn or broken edge ...



In early September I was part of a two week residency Gallery 37 run by Punch Records which was based at Centrala Gallery. Being immersed in the urban/industrial landscape of Digbeth I became very interested in the everyday - cast away objects and their relationship with the city. From this I began researching into archiving.


My work for the residency resolved in a combination of sculptural and installation works. In one case taking found bricks - smashed and fragmented coated in plaster and photo transferring archival images of Birmingham. In another - the objects I encountered through trips to the studio became the work itself - the objects were considered for their aesthetic value - how they fit into the category of cast away everyday objects with an inherent fragmented form (a piece of tile, a juice carton, chocolate packet etc.) This was a very useful springboard for exploring the function of archives moving forwards.



Hal Foster's 2004 essay An archival impulse - identifies that many contemporary artists of today have shifted their attention to the archive - with artists using historical material in their work ‘to connect what cannot be connected’.


Archival Works:


  • use both public and private archival material

  • explore history, memory, truth, identity and the everyday (key interest in how the everyday can become an archive)

  • artists can use wide range of media when creating archival work.


Artists working with archives - their work 'reflects a deep sense of longing for connection with the archival material that forms the basis of their practice' . What is it that I am longing for within my own archive? Is it a connection to my hometown? A connection to a nostalgic idea of the past? Or a more primitive longing for a connection with material and object - of tool.



'In the first instance archival artists seek to make historical information, often lost or displaced, physically present' (Foster, 2004, p.4). It is an interesting subject - what would be considered a lost or displaced object? How do we connect a history to an object which is cast away - fragmented - broken - disused? It appears that a group of objects collated together cannot be seen as an archive if their is no historical information attached to it - can I subvert or challenge this within my own work?


'these artists are often drawn to unfulfilled beginnings or incomplete projects-in art and in history alike-that might offer points of departure again' (Foster, 2004, p.5).


'departure' - the action of leaving, especially to start a journey/a deviation from an accepted, prescribed, or usual course of action


Idea of an incomplete object - a fragment of the everyday - can these objects act as a point of departure? Much of contemporary art attempts to depart from prescribed courses of action - to challenge the status quo ... I connect with this statement - within my own work I find myself drawn to incomplete objects - the fragmented shape of an object - an interest in something that isn't whole.


'archival objects […] serve as found arks of lost moments in which the here- and-now of the work functions as a possible portal between an unfinished past and a reopened futures' (Foster, 2004, p.14).


Very conceptual take on the role of the archive - it is not seen as something static - can act as a physical teleportation device into viewing different histories and also allows us to reflect on our past and present to consider future possibilities.




Foster's essay helped develop my understanding of what archiving is and the way it can function as a catalyst for engaging with spaces, environments, found objects, and histories.

Shape my understanding of how I can formulate my own archive of images and research.





One of the first pieces I created was a resin cast where I reused some of the objects collected for my residency - cast away everyday objects exploring the urban fragmented aesthetic. I was also interested in how archives are preserved - linking to how the material of resin physically preserved the incapsulated objects.


Technically it was a very rewarding process learning how to use resin. The piece was cast into a vinyl mould which was taken directly from a found piece of concrete. The piece had to be cast in stages, using the correct quantities of resin to catalyst. Once the first layer became a jelly-like consistency I was able to place the first set of objects and then pour a second layer to encapsulate them. However, it was very challenging as some of the lighter objects floated in the resin. I also had to consider the composition I was creating as I had to work backwards to create the image - understanding how objects would be seen placed on top of each other.


When it came to taking the cast out of the mould I encountered a problem - it appeared that the first layer of resin melted the vinyl mould and became fused - as I attempted to demould this layer broke and delaminated. This may have been due to the fact I cast the piece in layers - possibly waiting too long and casting when each layer was already set. The first layer was also very cloudy - this may have been due to a bad batch of resin or possibly the wrong consistency. It is likely that I added too much catalyst and that this caused the resin to heat up too much which melted the vinyl mould.




Thankfully, this problem was beneficial as I was able to completely remove the top layer which left a smooth and transparent finish underneath. This allowed the objects to be seen much more clearly. However the piece was very scratched. To create the smooth finish I went through many grades of wet sandpaper, finally finishing with a layer of Brasso which polished the resin - removing scratches and cloudiness.



Panelas, T., 1982. Yearning for Yesterday: A Sociology of Nostalgia


The work of archiving is consistently related to nostalgia.


nostalgia: a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past./late 18th century (in the sense ‘acute homesickness’): modern Latin (translating German Heimweh ‘homesickness’), from Greek nostos ‘return home’ + algos ‘pain’.



Relation between nostalgia and longing - links to Foster's assertion of archiving being a longing for a lost past ...



•"nostalgia, despite its private, sometimes intensely felt personal character, is a deeply social emotion as well" p.1425

Interesting how nostalgia as an emotional response can provide a sense of social connection - this would then allow archives to also create social connections ...


•a sense of respect and appreciation for an emotional condition commonly stigmatized as ephemeral, self-indulgent, and conservative. Far from being trivial, sociological interest in nostalgia is justified by the latter's central role in the formation and maintenance of the self, the management of status passages throughout the life cycle, and even the entire society's sense of collective identity. p.1425


Works engaged with archives have been described as self-indulgent - this contradicts that assumption and justifies the importance of nostalgia - it can help formulate self identity - social identity - communities and societies can be based upon an identity produced out of nostalgia.



My work investigates found objects – connection – observation – explore a nostalgia for objects