Recently archives have started to be used and researched by artists to create new pieces of work that take inspiration from the past. A recent example might be the creation of ‘A Grain of Rice’ for the bank HSBC. These two sculptures appear as a single, giant grain of rice – making reference to HSBC origins in Hong Kong – and are designed to represent an internationally traded commodity, as well as the many individuals that have supported and helped HSBC during its history. Using the HSBC archives the creators covered these sculptures with up to 150 images that illustrate moments, people and objects from HSBC’s history.
Another example might be the recent production of a Feminist Chorus that takes inspiration and information from archives across Glasgow to initially create a live performance, and more recently a published score of the work. Artists from the Feminist Chorus – and many other artists and researchers – have provided their impression of working with the GSA Archives and Collections and what they have gained from visiting the archives. You can read their thoughts about their experience here.
Both of these are examples of artists taking inspiration from archives to create something new; however, the most common question I hear from artists who are new to the work of archives, is of course, what is an archive?
This can often be a difficult question to answer as an archive can be made up of almost any material, publication or record, including your standard books, correspondence and receipts to plant seeds, sketches, random objects and much more. At its core archives are the organic accumulation of records by a person or organisation that have been selected for permanent preservation. As the year continues we will be looking at some of the jobs that archives undertake in more detail, but today there is a handy guide for artists looking to investigate archives.
As part of an ACE funded project called ‘Now in Then’ Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in collaboration with the writer Angela Street have created a toolkit for creative practitioners who want to work with archivists and archives. While some of this is specific to Wiltshire, a great deal of this provides information on the general structure and access of all archives that all creative practitioners will find useful. This guide can be found here. Take a look and see what archives can offer you!