Archives hold the promise of continual exploration, however, before embarking on this quest we must first understand them as places for construction rather than sites of excavation. Perhaps this notion of potentiality is the reactive force guiding artists around the often-hampering hand of official archival procedures. Within this exhibition the work of 10 artists highlight the malleable nature of visual archives, and the many ways that they can be activated through contemporary practices.
Themes such as, preservation, restoration, and organization, are usually central to discussions around the archive, yet the works displayed here attest to the equal importance of creativity and the freedom of use. Despite sharing an archival underpinning, these works are all strongly unique, and detail the myriad of ways that this material can approach universal subjects through artistic intervention. In turn, our understandings of photographs, why they are archived, and ultimately how they can be used is further expanded.
In the Tate paper, Perspectives: Negotiating the Archive, Sue Breakell describes how “an archive is now understood to mean anything that is no longer current but that has been retained”. How and why photographic collections are retained is often based on a slippery encounter shrouded in subjectivity, which in turn further complicates our understanding of what constitutes an archive. In some cases within this exhibition, the act of retainment is orchestrated by the artist them self through acts of archival salvage from sites such as, flea markets, rubbish dumps, or simply the street.
However an archive is formed, activation is the key to new readings and new directions. All of the works encountered here are testament to this endeavour where the artists are inventing archives, performing the archive, connecting archives, creating online archives, and re-imagining personal archives.
This online exhibition is part of the current IC Visual Lab programme Activating the Archive, which has included a symposium, workshops, talks, and an upcoming artistic commission. These events have been ongoing over an eight-month period and are supported by the Arts Council of England.
Alejandro Acin (b.1984 Spain) is an artist and a creative producer based in the United Kingdom. Founder director of IC-Visual Lab, an organization that delivers a successful programme of contemporary photography and storytelling. Since 2016, he is studio manager at ICVL Studio where he works as designer and editor in collaborative publishing and digital projects which have been internationally recognised. His interest in visual archives has led him to work as part of the team in important collections like Historical Photographs of China or through artistic commissions with Bristol Industrial and Maritime archive and most recently with the British Empire & Commonwealth Collection entitled Alone with Empire in collaboration with Isaac Blease, an exhibition that will open in Oct 2018 in Bristol (UK).
Isaac Blease (b. 1992) is a photographer based in the United Kingdom. He graduated in Documentary Photography at the University of South Wales in 2015, and completed an MA in Curatorial Practice at the University of the West of England in 2017. His most recent work, Charaxes Imperialis, revolves around the African butterfly collection bequeathed to him by his Grandfather, through which a complex visual study into British colonial rule unravels. The project was shortlisted for the Jerwood/Photoworks award, and was the winner of the Deutsch Bank DBACE award for Art and Photography in 2017. Currently he is working on the Activating the Archive program with IC Visual Lab, which involves an artistic commission using material from the British Empire & Commonwealth Collection entitled Alone with Empire. This installation will be opening in October 2018 and is supported by the Arts Council England.