Even though the practice of archiving (as much as the one of collecting) has always been part of both individual and collective experience and everyday life, we tend to think about it as domain of scholars, librarians and researchers.
Recent advancements in information technology, however, have made the practice of archiving a more significant part of everyday life. Through USB pen drives and digital memory cards we have changed our way of thinking about the archive due to the increasingly virtual nature of the archival space itself. If questions of collecting, storing, classifying and cataloguing material used to be of primary interest in early modern times, these days the question of visibility and optimization of use of the archive’s resources seem to be at the centre of cultural debates. For these and many other reasons a remarkable change in what we archive, how we archive it and the use we make of the archived material has occurred.
These changes are currently represented by several examples and initiatives. Creativeworks London – a network of over 40 academic and creative sector partners and one of the four Knowledge Exchange Hubs for the Creative Economy founded by AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) – has awarded the fifth round of the “Creative Vouchers Scheme” to explore the theme of archiving.
The Creative Vouchers Scheme is a unique opportunity for medium sized enterprises to develop innovative research in collaboration with Creativeworks itself and other Independent Research Organization (IROs). On this occasion eight new organizations have received funding of £15,000 each to develop projects over the period of three to six month commencing from January and supported by academic partners. The selected projects and organizations will explore the theme of archive in different ways exploring the potential of different material including film, music and culinary and performing arts.
These progressive and experimental projects challenge different aspects of the theme of archiving. For instance in relation to the visibility of archived material we find the projects “(Better) Believe It: Big Journeys, Untold Stories” and “Connections: The June Givanni Pan African Cinema Archive”. The former project, developed by Counterpoints Arts in collaboration with the Royal Holloway University, will produce a “migratory archive” which collects videos, interviews and more about individuals who received asylum in Britain and refugee-related arts in the UK and will be at the service of the global human rights sector; the latter project, developed by June Givanni Pan African Cinema Archive in partnership with Birbeck (University of London) instead aims at making more accessible the material of the June Givanni Archive and identify potential stakeholder groups.
Alongside the question of visibility, some of the projects tackle a user-oriented approach aimed at integrating the user with the production itself of the archive through his/her curatorial contribution in creating different narratives and arrangements with the material stored. A good example in this sense is the project called “Making the invisible visible: enabling audiences to ‘see’ archive collections”; promoted by Geffrye museum in collaboration with Queen Mary College of the University of London it will develop visualization models to present the museum’s archive of photographs of ordinary people’s homes through user-friendly digital platforms.
Among the projects exploring new ways of archiving are “Song Catchers: archiving and promoting oral culture in London” and “Connections: The Wayne McGregor Living Archive (prototype)”. Song Catchers is developed by The Song Collectors Collective in collaboration with the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and will investigate the best ways to collect rare and ancient oral culture of the world by bringing together different expertise such as musicians, archivists, academics, etc. whereas Connections, developed by Wayne McGregor/Random Dance in collaboration with City University London will build a prototype digital archive of material produced during the career of choreographer Wayne McGregor.
What also emerges from the last two mentioned projects and other ones like “Cooking In Time, World Dinners 1970/1980/1990/2000/2010/2020” and “Developing New Programming Models from the Her Noise Archive” is the interest and attempt to collect and arrange different aspects of immaterial culture. In particular “Cooking in Time”, developed by Creative Belly event company in collaboration with University of Roehampton, will explore the culinary cultural change in time in the UK through a series of events and “Her Noise Archive”, developed by Elektra in collaboration with the University of the Arts and with CRiSAP (Creative Research into Sound Arts Practice), will produce a collection of music and sound material in relation to gender.
Both technological innovations and increased interest by the public on this subject have produced these and more new ways of approaching the theme of archiving. Projects like the ones supported by Creativeworks are transforming the archive’s role within society and enriching it of cultural significance.
How can we construct the future perspective of the archive as a broader set of values that goes beyond the practical storage of information?