Artists and Archives

Yesterday, I attended the Unboxed: Artists and the Archives event at the Hayward Gallery. In attendance were curators, performers, and researchers who all shared an interest in the archive’s generative potential.

The most intriguing contribution was from Barbara Cleveland, an artist’s collective from Australia. All of their work centres on the fictional career of Barbara Cleveland. Indeed, the character of Barbara is an artifice; she only exists in fake archival evidence. Barbara Cleveland re-enact fictional performances in the vein of Marina Abramovic’s Seven Easy Pieces.  Their work beautifully illustrates the fictional qualities of the archive and the unfinished project of artistic histories.

We often speak about the act of remembering in the passive voice, but I was once again reminded of it’s dynamism, it’s self consciousness. As one speaker noted, the archives are incredibly self-conscious entities. Art histories, too, are never written passively. The events in Charlottesville  are a timely reminder that how the past is read is significantly determined by political realities in the present. Likewise, the ways artists acquire legacies through the documents they bestow to the archive are never stable.

Archives are an invitation for interpretation and re-interpretation. Artists have the privilege and responsibility to imagine new futures for these legacies by using the archive as a progenitor of new work so history does not just exist in institutions and texts.