This document is the result of research into the breadth of artists work within archives in the south west over the last five years. We have tried to bring you examples of ‘Artists in the Archive’ projects that represent every art form and span every part of the south west region. We would like to thank the artists and archivists for their time in providing the information and sharing the images we have used.
These case studies illustrate how collaboration with artists can result in greater achievements, understanding and appreciation of archives, and the importance of the continued creative archival process for future communities and generations.
We know that some collections have special attraction for artists providing inspiration that is distinctive and conceptual. Archives have been used by artists to simply inform creative practice and to inform community projects that are searching for new ways to share hidden treasures and stories, bringing them to life in unique and unexpected ways.
Through using the arts to explore our archives we can gain an evocative understanding of previous times, day to day activities and significant historic events, interpreting what we know and presenting new perspectives on the past and the contemporary view of history. It can for example help us to understand what elements of our lives are important to record for future generations and how we can capture and share them.
We’ve learned that involving artists in the archives can support intergenerational work bringing young and older communities together as well as engaging local and diverse communities and attracting new audiences. It can invigorate the archives and facilitate us to find new ways of teaching, learning, sharing and celebrating the collections using the versatility of the arts to do so.
From a practical point we’ve learned that successful relationships between artists and archives involve building trust, developing sound communication and agreeing on shared objectives. We know that the right skills mix is needed during the development of projects; especially where external funding is involved and that sharing the learning through the delivery of the project as a part of the development of both the artists and the archive team is vital.
There are many opportunities and there is a huge potential for really exciting work if we can support one another to collaborate effectively.
The Still Life of a Strong Room
Photographer Neil McCoubrey spent a year visiting and photographing archives ‘behind-the-scenes’ in Bristol Record Office’s strongrooms. His exhibition of images of ‘found still-life’ aimed to capture the emotions evoked in him by the serenity, accidental beauty and hundreds of years of personal touches found in the archives.
‘Strongrooms are places of calm order with an almost spiritual atmosphere, where time slows as you become absorbed in the space and the objects. They are always quiet, apparently empty of people, yet all around I can see beautiful ‘still-life’ tableaux of unintended compositions that result from the work of conservators and archivists.’
Neil McCoubrey Artist: Neil McCoubrey, Photographer, email@example.com
Web link: http://www.neilmccoubrey.com/section638245_512822.html
Plan books 6 – Neil McCoubrey
How did this project come about and who initiated it?
I developed my ideas around "found still life" during the Tyntesfield House project which was my final project for my BA (hons) Photography degree in 2011. Following on I was looking around for other archives and contacted The Bristol Record Office. They liked my ideas of uncovering the archive environment and of human touches within the objects as being different to a study of the objects themselves. For example, in the image "Plan books 6" someone back in the late 19th century has dropped their cigarette and burned the plans.
What were the aims and outcomes of your year in the archives?
For the Record Office it was to have a 3 month exhibition at their premises and publicity for the Record Office. For me it was about exposure as a photographer but also I revel in the challenge and the process of trying to find a story in a place that is not intended to be a story itself.
What did you learn about your own practice or working in this environment?
I gained a lot more experience in the interpretation of archives, how to fairly represent 2 million plus objects and their environment in just a few images. Technically, lighting was a major problem that had to be overcome.
What did you gain from working with the archives?
I've always loved museums, libraries and other archives because, as I said here: ‘Strongrooms are places of calm order with an almost spiritual atmosphere, where time slows as you become absorbed in the space and the objects. Also the joy of being able to explore somewhere and something few ever get to see.
Red books 1 – Neil McCoubrey
Gloucestershire Archives Roadshows
Gloucestershire Archives holds material dating from the 12th century to the present day that forms an exciting and irreplaceable element of Gloucestershire’s rich heritage. The Record Office offers a series of roadshow events for heritage organisations and other venues. These have been created from material in the archives and offer exciting and innovative events for people of all ages and can be tailored to suit various group requirements. Each roadshow has a supporting activity pack of information, places to visit and further reading.
‘My house is an old lock-keepers canal cottage, I never realised that they would have been so busy and that there were so many boats moving around. I must come into the Archives to look at the [Thames & Severn Canal] records.’
Road Show Attendee
Archive: Gloucestershire Archives
Contact: Gloucestershire Archives Learning & Outreach Team
firstname.lastname@example.org, 01452 427591
Web link: http://www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/archives/
Fish, Fykes & Ferries!
How did this project come about and what was the aim?
Shortly after joining Gloucestershire Archives I was approached by Artshape, a local arts organisation, with a proposal for an externally funded programme of archives-inspired family learning events. We delivered these on-site at the Archives during the school summer holiday and discovered that they were very popular. Fuelled by this and the Museum’s success, and with a remit to widen and increase participation, we decided to develop an Archives programme of collections-inspired family learning events – but with two differences. Firstly, as a county-wide service, we needed to get out and about with these across the county to engage various communities. Secondly, we wanted to help people to understand about our collections and services as part of the overall learning experience. And so the Roadshow formula was born.
Our innovative Learning & Outreach Officer, John Putley has been developing and delivering Roadshows ever since, extending the menu of events by working with artists, external funding permitting, and by drawing on his own re-enactment expertise. He has added to the experience by creating take-away learning activities and is currently reviewing each event to re-define its outcomes and measurable outputs.
What have you learned from this work and how will it develop?
Using the arts to interpret heritage is a great idea. It really helps to make collections accessible to a wide range of audiences and there are endless opportunities for working in partnership with external funding to achieve this.
Partnership projects are more successful when the lead partner has a good understanding of partnership working and is experienced in managing externally funded initiatives. Within the Arts, this level of expertise is more frequently, but not exclusively, found in arts organisations with professional managers, fundraisers and development officers.
Where appropriate, we weave the development of a new Roadshow into activity plans for externally funded projects.
What are the outcomes of the road shows?
The following comments came from people who attended our Fish, Fykes and Ferries Roadshow which is based on the River Severn in Gloucestershire. The main element is a 5-character interactive dramatic performance where audience members retrieve an object from a box of sand and the performer becomes a character associated with the object. This is repeated for all 5 characters and the entire performance lasts about 1 hr. It is suitable for children (5 upwards) and adults.
‘It’s great to see so many people here at the fete and interested in the river and the history of the area.’ “Fantastic opportunity to learn interesting local things with a fun activity.” “Very interesting – kept the children happy, had their attention and the activities were fab!”
Story Box is a series of events which invites artists to explore the Wiltshire and Swindon archives with expert support from our archivists, academics and researchers. The Story Box project lifts the lid on 8 miles of archives and invites creative practitioners to slip between the centuries and delve into the lives of past generations.
“’The Past is another country; they do things differently there…’ (L.P. Hartley) Archives can be very alien at first sight, with their archaic handwriting, seals, spelling and a worldview of writers a long way removed from ourselves – archivists can act as a ‘travel guide’ to help make archives more accessible to contemporary use. The Storybox project aims to show artists the methods and materials used to record human activity over time and to make writers and artists aware of those archives which are particularly rich for discovering human stories such as diaries, letters, wills, poor law records and records of crime and punishment.”
Claire Skinner, Principal Archivist
Archive: Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre Archives
Contact: Peter Tyas, email@example.com 01249 705534
Web link: http://theartsinwiltshire.wordpress.com/?s=Story+Box
How did this project come about and what was the aim?
This work was initiated by a partnership of the Archive Service and the Arts Service at Wiltshire Council. Story Box aimed to establish a community of artists who can use the archive as a source of inspiration for their work and to make a space available for creative practitioners to collaborate. To discover and create an alternative view and interpretation of archives and to aid creative inspiration, uncovering hidden stories, people and places in Wiltshire.
What were the outcomes of Story Box?
Story Box has engaged over 40 artists in working with the History Centre; this has resulted in new plays being written and performed, novels and biographies being undertaken and visual arts projects being developed. It is anticipated that an artist group will be formed and that participatory projects will commence soon.
Story Box is at an early stage but almost 300 artists and creative practitioners have been involved in the project through social-media and it is anticipated that the number of artists engaging with the History Centre will continue to rise as the program continues.
Partnerships have since emerged with the writing development agency for the south west, Literature Works, with regional producing and receiving theatres as well as with independent writing groups and the local colleges.
What have you learned from this work?
This project has been very revealing in developing our understanding of how to engage creative people with the archive, the main lessons were:
The archive is too vast a collection with too many possibilities and information for a single project. Story Box is about developing a relationship, freeing up the potential and exploring the possible rather than completing a project.
Make a space and facilitate access to the archive on an on-going basis,
Share knowledge and passion with artists; share what motivates the staff, volunteers and users.
Take time to pick out some key stories from the archives to whet the artists’ appetites and show them the potential
Make connections and support networking, give artists the freedom to respond personally and then collectively.
How will this strand of work develop?
The Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre will communicate with artists on all its work, leaving it up to the community of artists to respond. The History Centre will include a dialogue with artists at a very early stage in project development, and will give time to consider including creative strands, especially when these will engage with new audiences or hard to reach communities.
Our aspirations are that the History Centre will facilitate the development of an independent artists group, this autonomous collective will be resident within the Centre, attract their own funding and develop their own work plan.
The History Centre will continue to offer seminars and events that interpret selected materials from the archive to reach new artists and explore new ways of working.
Archive: Bristol Record Office
Missorts by Tony White is a public artwork which takes the forms of a novella and an immersive soundwork app. Produced by Situations and funded by Bristol City Council for Bristol Legible City initiative, it features ten original and interconnected short stories, accompanied by Portwall Preludes, commissioned from Jamie Telford for St. Mary Redcliffe’s organ. Inspired by Bristol's radical literary heritage, Missorts reflects the past and present of Redcliffe and the diversity of writings, objects and architectures found there. Bristol Record Office hosted workshops which led to the short stories, and Tony’s novella turns on a document from the collections.
Artist: Tony White
Art form: Literature, Music, Film, Pervasive Media
An exhibition of artists' books from the Arnolfini’s collection, co-curated by the Arnolfini and Bristol Record Office, including works by Ed Ruscha, Richard Long, John Furnival, Martin Creed, Don Celender and Jonathan Monk. The books are artworks - artworks that take the form of the book, rather than books about art. Arnolfini’s collection stems from the avant-garde art movements of the 1960s, and many of the books, which were originally exhibited and sold through Arnolfini’s bookshop, are playful and irreverent in character. The exhibition was accompanied by a ‘Tertulia’ event, in which artists, curators, academics and archivists participated.
Web site: http://tertuliablog.wordpress.com/november-2012
Self Portrait: Arnolfini
Archive: Bristol Record Office & Arnolfini
During the course of Arnolfini’s 50th anniversary year, artist Neil Cummings, working with designer Stephen Coates and archivist Julian Warren, developed a series of self-portraits of Arnolfini using information from its archive. Presented throughout the building, and as a publication, these data portraits expanded throughout the year, weaving together aesthetic, technological and economic histories as Arnolfini grew from a small commercial gallery to one of Europe’s most significant centres for the contemporary arts. The portrait continued beyond the present to speculate on possible futures. As Neil described it, ‘Recalled from composite memory in 2061, Self Portrait: Arnolfini is a relational timeline of institutional self-consciousness.’
Web site: http://www.neilcummings.com/content/self-portrait-arnolfini-0
Inaugural Artist in Residence
Archive: University of Bristol Theatre Collection
(Mander & Mitchenson Collection)
Bristol artist Clare Thornton became the inaugural Artist in Residence at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection as part of the diamond anniversary celebrations of this internationally renowned theatre and performance archive. Clare focused on the Mander & Mitchenson Collection, recently acquired by the University, revealing some of its hidden treasures and making new work inspired by the holdings.
The collections have subsequently been used for a wide variety of arts projects.
Artist: Clare Thornton
Art form: Theatre
Contact: Laura Gardner, firstname.lastname@example.org
Web site: http://theatrebristol.net/2011/8/18/university-of-bristol-theatre-collection-celebrates-60th-anniversary-with-first-artist-in-residence
Archive: Cornwall Records Office
Miracle Theatre Company was commissioned by the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site to produce Tin – a theatre production which was performed at World Heritage Sites across Cornwall and Devon to bring aspects of Cornish Mining Heritage to life in a unique way. It interpreted the experience of 19th century Cornish mining communities, and how their lives were shaped by the mining industry and economy and celebrate and propagate these WHS’s heritage themes in an exciting, innovative and unexpected way.
A Heritage Lottery Funded project helped to create addition learning tools which used archives and local history resources to explore the stories behind the book.
Web site: http://www.miracletheatre.co.uk/shows/tin
The Enys project
Archive: Cornwall Record Office
The Enys project funded two separate groups to work with award winning Cornish film-makers Simon and Brett Harvey and Ian Bucknole. The first of these mini projects involved working with St Agnes Explorer Scouts to tell the story of the Enys versus Tonkin legal dispute in St Agnes in the eighteenth century.
For the second mini project, students from Penryn College worked on scripts based on Valentine Enys’ letterbook, which is held at Cornwall Record Office. Valentine traded out of Penryn in the early eighteenth century and encountered many exploits along the way. The five films, based on events recounted in the letters, provide a fascinating insight into life as a Cornish merchant at this time.
Web site: http://enysfamilyarchive.co.uk/?page_id=290
Document & Distort: Engineered Garments
Archive: Cornwall Record Office
Fran Penny specialises in woven textiles and the focus of her final year work for her Textile Design BA (Hons) at University College Falmouth, was the process of documentation and distortion. Cornwall Record Office was the resource to find visual and conceptual inspiration. From photographs taken of the archives, Fran developed artwork and computer-aided designs, which she transferred into digitally woven fabrics. Fran also looked at construction in her work, creating engineered garments, which when taken off the loom require little of not stitching to transform them inform ready-to-wear pieces. The structured and layered methods of documentation are reflected in the construction of the cloth. The effect distortion can have upon information both factually and visually is explored through manipulated contemporary imagery.
Politics in Print was a collaboration between Double Elephant Print Workshop and Devon Record Office. Seven artists were commissioned to bring to life Devon’s political archives through the medium of printmaking. The twin aims of the project were to highlight the range and versatility of printmaking as well as explore some of the rich historical resources at Devon Record Office.
Web site: http://www.doubleelephant.org.uk/our-work/project/politics-in-print
Emma Gifford: Identity, Love, Loss and Bereavement
Archive: Dorset County Museum Archives
This project aimed to encounter the portrait of the first Mrs Thomas Hardy, on display at Dorset County Museum. Through research and close study of the painting it moved into an analysis of the Hardy’s early relationship.
Archive images were combined with artefacts, poems and writing and the completed research sketchbook and series of final images went on displayed at the Museum.
This was part of a larger project where 20 artists from across the region re-encountered a museum artefact. Titled Encounters the project produced a variety of visual artwork in response to the Museum’s archive.
Date: 2011 to 2013
Artist: Emma Gifford
Art form: Visual Arts
Contact: Susan R Hughes, Susanrhughes@gmail.com, 01305 780078
Web site: www.susanrhughes.co.uk & www.wesca.co.uk
1944 We Were Here: African American GIs in Dorset
Archive: Dorset Records Office
This two year project aimed to increase awareness and understanding of the contribution of African American soldiers to Dorset communities and the Allied forces during WWII. The project focused on stories of families and the community in Dorset during 1944 as they prepared for the D-Day landings in France and linked to stories from families in the USA and around the world. The scheme recorded interpretations of these events to share across generations ensuring their place in history was preserved.
A legacy of collected stories, photos and film from descendents was created, including a touring exhibition, public talks and workshops, school drama workshops working with a local theatre and a booklet.
Art form: Exhibition
Contact: Louise Boston-Mammah, email@example.com
Web site: http://www.dorchesterarts.org.uk/7-18-october-%E2%80%A2-1944-we-were-here-african-american-gis-in-dorset
FreeTime, Our stories of leisure then and now
Archive: Dorset County Archive
A community oral history project studying the changing nature of our leisure time over the last 60 years. This project aims to capture memories, to create a new archive so that future generations can discover the views and feelings of ordinary people through the descriptive accounts of their experience.
Young and old will collaborate and share in a range of activities leading up to an exhibition at Dorset County Museum in March 2014, and release of an app.
Art form: Exhibition and website. Fostering conversations between communities and generations. Range of activities including writing, photography, sound and use of social media.
Contact: Joe Stevens, firstname.lastname@example.org
Web site: www.freetimeourstories.org.uk
The School Looks Around
Archive: Devon Record Office
The idea for Daisi's School Looks Around project originated from the rediscovery of a publication of the same name written in 1948, which promoted the idea of the local survey as an adventurous and open-ended process, a 'voyage of discovery into the life, history and organisation of the locality'.
Pupils at The King's School, Ottery St Mary, and South Dartmoor Community College, Ashburton, worked alongside visual artists to carry out a contemporary survey of their local areas and community, drawing on the resources of Devon Record Office and other heritage organisations. Using sound, text, photography, film, paint, sculpture, print, maps, natural materials and their own possessions, the young people from each school produced their own creative work in response to their local area.
Art form: Visual Arts
Contact: Joe Stevens, email@example.com
Web site: http://www.daisi.org.uk/artists/project-archive/217-school-looks-around.html
Our Working Lives, then and now
(60 years of changing work practices 1945 -2010)
Archive: Poole Museum Local History Archive
This project explored who we are, where we’ve come from and where we’re going – as individuals and as communities. Exploring how work patterns have changed from the 20th to the 21st century. Recording people’s memories of leaving school and entering the workforce between 1945 and 1950. Project participants reflected on the changes and created an exhibition, The Way We Worked, at Poole Museum.
Art form: Photography and Sound Recording
Contact: Joe Stevens, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Web site: http://www.ourworkinglives.org
Sonic bus tour of Poole’s working landscape
Archive: Poole Museum Local History Archive
A unique, one-off, bus tour of Poole’s working landscape was organised. Where passengers got the chance to travel through time on a 1959 Routemaster bus for a mystery tour to hear a soundtrack of Poole’s working landscape.
The tour took visitors to areas in Poole not usually visited by commercial tour packages. Snaking through Poole’s industrial estates, as well as other interesting features of Poole’s economic landscape. During the tour passengers could hear everyday people talk about their working life, about Poole history and how its infrastructure has developed. Mixed with life today and its possible economic future.
Artist: Joe Stevens
Art form: Sound
Contact: Joe Stevens, email@example.com
Web site: http://www.ourworkinglives.org/archives/959
The Nature of Mending
Archive: Museums Archives in Dorset
‘The Journey: Exploring the Nature of Mending’ is a new contemporary craft project that explores layers of meaning, cultural and emotional, that are evoked by mending, repair and re-use. The core of the project is commissioning new work from five contemporary makers who are highlighting, celebrating and interpreting the mending to be found in museum collections.
Artist: Lisa Earley
Art form: Contemporary Craft
Contact: Jacy Wall, www.jacywall.co.uk
Web site: http://www.natureofmending.co.uk/artist/lisa-earley
Archive: Gloucestershire Archives
Gloucestershire Archives partnered with Gloucester Theatre Company and the University of Gloucestershire to deliver this Heritage Lottery funded project, which captured, preserved and shared stories about people who live(ed/work(ed) in the ethnically diverse area of Barton and Tredworth, Gloucester. Project outputs included the Barton and Tredworth Community Heritage website and a theatrical performance.
The project finished in April 2012 but the Archives is continuing to work in the Barton and Tredworth area, raising awareness about the service and providing advice/ partnership support as needed.
Web site: http://www.bartonandtredworth.org.uk/index.aspx
Archive: Gloucestershire Archive
Gloucestershire Archives helped to deliver a multi-agency arts project, which aimed to interpret and celebrate the River Severn and the communities living along its banks.
• Provided performance artist Alice Oswold with copies of archival material relating to the river Severn. She used this as inspiration for her ‘A Sleepwalk on the Severn’ poem, which was the centrepiece for the project’s artistic programme.
• Developed the ‘Fish, Fykes and Ferries’ road show.
• Secured additional funding from the Ernest Cook Trust to develop cross curricular learning resources for primary schools. These were developed and tested in consultation with local primary schools and are now at the final draft stage; they include a DVD of the ‘Fish, Fykes and Ferries’ performance. We published these resources online and they have become the project’s main lasting legacy.
Archiving the lives and histories of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Community in Plymouth. The project resulted in a specific archive accession to represent the lives and histories of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) community in Plymouth. It involved a local LGBT community group and volunteers who were trained as oral historians to interview and capture the memories and recollections of this community. Volunteers also collected memorabilia where appropriate and revisited materials already in the archive to establish any LGBT connections. All of these materials were displayed at an exhibition at the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery in the summer of 2012.
Art form: Exhibition
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, 01752 305940
Web site: http://plymlgbtarchive.org.uk/2013/04/03/case-study-published-on-the-national-archives-website
How d’you know that?
Archive: Sandwell Archives Metropolitan Borough
How d'you know that? is a play to introduce older secondary students and the community to the workings of their local Archives. It was performed by a professional cast in the Sandwell Archives Search Room in October 2012, as part of Black History Month. It was also professionally filmed.
Archive: The Rifles (Berkshire and Wiltshire Museum)
Artist Henny Burnett together with children from Avon College and Bishop Wordsworth School used the artefacts and archives to create images of World War One. The results will be displayed by the National Portrait Gallery next summer and the aim is to hold an exhibition at the museum in August 2014.
Artist: Henny Burnett
Art form: Digital Photography
Contact: Simon Cook, email@example.com, 01722 419419
Web site: www.thewardrobe.org.uk
Archive: Wiltshire & Swindon Archives
Virtual landscapes will enable young people in Wiltshire to explore the heritage of their iconic and unique landscape in Wiltshire including the famous chalk hill figures consisting of 8 white horses and a collection of military badges. Young people will be introduced to historical investigation, archaeology skills and the Wiltshire and Swindon archives to research the history of these chalk hill figures. They will visit the historic landscape, learn about resources available at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre and work alongside heritage professionals.
With new skills and knowledge they will use a variety of art forms to create digital artworks as their way of interpreting the chalk hill figures for the virtual world; these could be their own folklore digital stories, short films, animations, music and music videos or digital artworks. For young people with families in the military they will be able to share their work with relatives online.
Secret histories and shared passion – a play with no words…yet
Playwright Richard Conlon asked customers of the Wilshire and Swindon History Centre to share their passion for the past and reveal the secret history of the County. His conversations with customer and staff was woven, verbatim, into a play which was then performed amongst the shelves and in the quiet room.
Richard asked family historians to talk to him about the lives of people they have discovered in the archive and he spoke with researchers and students about the mysterious and forgotten elements of local history that they were uncovering.
Artist: Richard Conlon
Art form: Theatre
Contact: Peter Tyas, firstname.lastname@example.org, 01249 705515
Archive: Wiltshire & Swindon Archives
SEEME is a Heritage Lottery funded community project where local people and organisations are working with Wiltshire Council, Wiltshire Music Centre and Salisbury Playhouse to collect life story testimonies from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) elders across Wiltshire and provide learning and participation activities in response to these stories. An award-winning animated film has been produced in collaboration with local school children and the film maker Jamie McDine.
Artist: Wiltshire Music Centre and Salisbury Playhouse
Art form: Animation, Music and Drama
Contact: Terry Bracher, email@example.com, 01249 705515
Web site: www.seemewiltshire.co.uk
Archive: Museums Archives across South West
New Expressions is an initiative for museums in South West England. It pioneers collaboration with artists and audiences to invigorate museum collections, buildings and spaces. It enables museums to commission new work and to join forces with contemporary artists to create high quality, participative projects and compelling visitor experiences.