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Artistic Practice and The Archive

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Talk to The National Archives Big Idea Seminar, 20 February 2018

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Artistic Practice and The Archive

  1. 1. ARTISTIC PRACTICE AND THE ARCHIVE ANDREW PRESCOTT THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES, BIG IDEA SEMINAR, 20 FEBRUARY 2018
  2. 2. The priest John Ball addresses the insurgents in 1381. A late fifteenth century Flemish depiction of the scene from a manuscript of Froissart’s Chronicles: British Library, Royal MS 18 E.I f. 165v
  3. 3. Indictment concerning events at Rochester during the Rising of 1381, taken on 4-5 July 1381 by a commission under Thomas Holland, Earl of Kent. Note how the scribe gradually pieces together the accusations as the interrogation proceeds: KB 9/43 m. 9
  4. 4. Petition by Margery Tawney concerning her attempts to petition the King in the Tower of London at the height of the rising in 1381: SC 8/103/5111
  5. 5. The record as a complex craft object – a roll of the Court of Common Pleas (CP 40)
  6. 6. Medieval tally stick, notched and inscribed to record a debt owed to the rural dean of Preston Candover, Hampshire, of a tithe of 20d each on 32 sheep, amounting to a total sum of £2 13s. 4d
  7. 7. • Information theory since the pioneering work of Claude Shannon in the 1940s assumes a distinction between information (eg morse signals) and the medium carrying it (eg telegraph wires). • Many current digital standards aim to ensure that the text is separate from its format eg Text Encoding Initiative, XML • But is the information on a tally stick or a plea roll really independent from the medium which preserves it: isn’t a lot of what we study as humanities scholars precisely that interaction? • Like texts, archive objects come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes. In using digital technologies to explore these objects, shouldn’t we be presenting their variety of form? • So, I became interested in developing a digital humanities which would give us a stronger sense of the materiality of the historic record
  8. 8. Reading under ultra-violet light from folio 157 verso of the Beowulf manuscript, British Library, Cotton MS Vitellius A.xv, as shown in Kevin Kiernan’s Electronic Beowulf
  9. 9. Letters in the Beowulf manuscript concealed by Victorian conservation work, revealed by fibre optic backlighting and recorded with a digital camera
  10. 10. Tanglebots workshop, part of the weavingcodes project. Explores the relationship between code, robotics and thread by building ‘tanglebots’: http://kairotic.org/
  11. 11. Performances by Hester Reeve, Sheffield Hallam University: The Cannonisation of HRH.the and The Critical Girlfriend
  12. 12. The SelfReflector: an internet connected mirror that is able to calculate your age, play music from when you were a teenager and print out this image on a TapWriter. Jon Rogers, Jayne Wallace, Michael Shorter and Pete Thomas (2017).
  13. 13. Eduardo Kac, Re-abracadabra (1985, 2016) Work for the French Videotext service, Minitel, now reconstructed https://vimeo.com/189945892
  14. 14. https://vimeo.com/153848627 Eduardo Kac, Letter (1996)
  15. 15. •How does artistic practice of this kind affect my interest in understanding, exploring and exemplifying the archive? •Long history of using the archives as an inspiration for artistic practice, and digital technologies enhance this •As our views of the archive change and we incorporate new community generated components including artefacts, sound, moving image, etc. artistic practice also starting to become more prominent •But I believe there is the potential for artistic practice to make further more transformative contributions
  16. 16. • Potential contributions of artistic practice include: • Altering the performativity of the archive and the way we present its stories • Changing the way we visualise the archive • Different visions of the role of the archive in culture and society • Engagement with artistic practice can help in coming to terms with the impact of new technologies on the archive • The nature of interdisciplinarity – the archive as a venue for interdisciplinarity. How far can the archivist become an artistic practitioner? • My examples have arisen from conversations around the ‘Digital Transformations’ theme and aren’t a representative survey
  17. 17. The archives as an inspiration for artistic and design practice design.nationalarchives.gov.uk
  18. 18. David Normal, Cabinets of Curiosity, lightbox murals using images from the Flickr public domain collection released by the British Library. Exhibited at the Burning Man Festival, 2014, and at the British Library, 2015
  19. 19. Half Memory produced two DVDs and performances based on material in Tyne and Wear Archive Richard Dawson: The Glass Trunk Warm Digits: Interchange
  20. 20. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3A8mBIM8MwM Warm Digits, Interchange (2012) experimental film and album inspired by the holdings of the Tyne and Wear Archives relating to the building of the Metro system
  21. 21. The changing nature of the archive blurs the boundary with artistic practice https://plymhearts.org/learning/communities/joyces-quilt/
  22. 22. http://www.meagreresource.com/radio/programmes/fvrh.html (start at 13:00)
  23. 23. Altering the performativity of the archive Hester Reeve and Olivia Plender, The Re-inaugural meeting of the Emily Davison Lodge (2010)
  24. 24. The Marginalia Machine (2014) Tom Schofield https://vimeo.com/101507221 https://vimeo.com/101507434
  25. 25. The Palimpsest Machine (2016) John Bowers and Tom Schofield https://vimeo.com/138975354
  26. 26. New modes of visualisation • One of the drivers of the archive is coping with mass and scale • Even for my medieval legal records, The Anglo-American Legal Tradition site contains over 9 million images – if accurate OCR for this material was available it would be of limited value • These problems are tiny compared with the issues posed by born- digital records • The e-mail archive for the White House under George W Bush contains over 200 million messages comprising over 60 TB • Wikileaks has published over 3 million diplomatic cables and US State department records
  27. 27. Visible Archive Series Browser (2010) by Mitchell Whitelaw of University of Canberra https://vimeo.com/6694353
  28. 28. https://vimeo.com/35972114 Michael Takeo Magruder, Insurance.AES256 (2012)
  29. 29. https://vimeo.com/50488232 Fabio Lattanzi Antinori, The Obelisk (2012) By scanning online news websites in real-time, the artwork changes from opaque to transparent, according to the amount of references to the four main crimes against peace (genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression and crimes of war), as they were codified during the Nuremberg trials and which can still be found in today’s online news.
  30. 30. https://vimeo.com/117366607 Fabio Lattanzi Antinori, Dataflags (2014). Uses conductive ink to enable visitor to hear representations of financial data from Lehmann Brothers
  31. 31. Fabio Lattanzi Antinori, Latency Docet (2016) The data driven sculpture is connected to a database of on-line available data derived from dark pools (source Finra, the Financial Industry Regulator Authority). Dark pools, or private financial forums of exchange for trading securities, have been recently made object of large criticism, especially in conjunction with illicit practices of front running and accuses of price manipulation. A code searches for patterns wihin the data and it fires a blend of four accords of the +– perfume. The perfume, crated in collaboration with perfume designer Sergey Dziniruk, was designed to translate personality traits common among traders into fragrances.
  32. 32. Data Bronze, Koutaro Sano and Ian Gwillt (2013)
  33. 33. Mitchell Whitelaw, Measuring Cup This form presents 150 years of Sydney temperature data in a little cup-shaped object about 6cm high. The data comes from the UK Met Office’s HadCRUT subset, released earlier this year; for Sydney it contains monthly average temperatures back to 1859.
  34. 34. invisibleaustralians.org/faces
  35. 35. http://owebrowse.herokuapp.com/redactions/ Tim Sherratt, Redactions, 2016
  36. 36. Marcel Broodthaers, Un Coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard, 1969 (from a poem by Mallarmé) A throw of the dice does not abolish chance.
  37. 37. This collection of creatures was discovered amidst thousands of ASIO surveillance files held by the National Archives of Australia. While the practice of redaction is intended to withhold information from public view, an unknown archivist has used redactions to add an artistic flourish to the files. They are reminders that the processes that limit our access to information are human in their operation and design. There is nothing magical about the ‘secrets’ preserved in government archives. Exhibited as part of 'Beauties and Beasts', Belconnen Arts Centre, 6-28 May 2017. Tim Sherratt, The Redaction Zoo (2017) https://vimeo.com/215976633
  38. 38. Issues of cooperation and interdisciplinarity • The risks of instrumentalisation • How do we develop joint work around the archive while respecting our own different practices and their concerns? • This offers wider lessons for interdisciplinarity: is using science in art leading to amateurish science, or creating real interdisciplinarity? • What kind of dialogue best supports this form of cooperation?
  39. 39. http://mtchl.net/drifter/

Talk to The National Archives Big Idea Seminar, 20 February 2018

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