Rethinking Archives: History, Media and Memory

Lead Research Organisation: University of the West of England
Department Name: Fac Creative Arts, Humanities &Education


These workshops take the appointment of an archivist for the first time to Arnolfini, the centre for contemporary arts in Bristol, as an opportunity to explore issues and questions relating to the archiving of contemporary art exhibitions, live art and other forms of intangible, or event-based culture. Using raw materials gathered from the past forty-five years of Arnolfini's programmes, the workshops will bring together archivists, theorists, artists, historians and members of Arnolfini's audience to explore a series of interconnected problems and questions.
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Workshop 1: Audience Memories
What is the role of memory in relation to history? Focussing on two events (performances or exhibitions) from Arnolfini's archive (one long past, one from the recent past), this workshop will explore and record audience memories of those events, using the expertise of oral historians and theorists of memory to address how these memories are to be elicited and included in the archive.

Workshop 2: Digitisation and Remediation
Media theorists, archivists and artists will address the role of media in preservation, how the artwork changes through its translation into a different medium, the materiality of the archive and the impact of digitization. Issues explored will include questions of decontextualisation and remediation. The workshop will also consider the potential of on-line software for user-led archiving, through which users of an archive can examine others' selections from the archive, and ask what is the significance of this for hierarchies of knowledge, and the relationship between archive and text/exhibit.

Workshop 3: Time and the Artwork
The third workshop will consider questions relating to time and the temporality of the artwork - notably the irony and ethics of preserving work which is part of a modernist attack on the museum, the archive or the art market and which is intended to refuse either commodification or archiving by having a built-in half-life, being designed to decay or to exist only in the present moment.

Workshop 4: Repetition and Reconstruction
This workshop will examine the uses of archival material in restagings and reconstructions either by the gallery or the museum or by artists' themselves. Questions of authenticity, the relationship between the real and the copy, and the changes in audience experience, will all be addressed.

In all the workshops, archival materials relating to specific events will be used as case studies and added to during the session, and the workshops themselves will be recorded and become part of the archive. The workshops will be held over four consecutive months and participants will be a combination of invited participants from regional museums, art organizations and archives, invited international theorists and artists, and an open call for participation from members of Arnolfini's audience. The discussions that result will influence the ways in which Arnolfini's archive is developed for the future.


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Title Archival materials - sound/video recordings and text for preservation in the Arnolfini Archives. 
Description During the workshops there was careful documentation of discussions in order to produce archival materials - sound/video recordings and text for preservation as part of the contemporary art archives of Arnolfini. These are now stored at Bristol Records Office, and some are accessible online. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2009 
Impact The impact will be in the use of these archived materials which are now held and available to the public in perpetuity. 
Description Rethinking Archives was a series of four workshops linked to the forthcoming 50th anniversary of Arnolfini, the centre for the contemporary arts in Bristol, UK, and the appointment of an archivist at Arnolfini. The key findings of the workshops were new shared ways to think about and progress the archiving process, for artists, academics, archivists and audience members. These included developing understandings of the issues around archiving live and performance art, archiving ephemeral materials, the involvement of audience memories in the archive (and the role and reliability of such memories), and new directions in digital archiving. What we found were connections and shared issues across a number of different contemporary art archives and artist's practices, and participants were able to take these ideas and conversations back to their own institutions, organisations and practices.
Exploitation Route The knowledge gained and shared in the workshops can be taken back to the various institutions and practices of the participants, and will help to shape and inform these practices in years to come.
Sectors Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description The discussions and papers in the funded workshop were used to inform the archiving practice of the Arnolfini archivist and to shape the ways in which key holdings were preserved, and made available to access. Artists and academics involved in the workshop were able to develop new dialogues across their respective fields, that have gone onto inform their practice. The networks developed in the workshop stimulated a research visit to the Isle of Man archives by participating artists, along with novelists and musicians. In my own work, the knowledge I gained about archiving informed the setting up of a small research organisation on Bristol music, and several consultancy opportunities and written papers. Audience involvement gave Arnolfini new forms of feedback. The workshop also became the basis for more collaborative work between the institution and the university.
First Year Of Impact 2008
Sector Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural