The Archivist as Curator
Dear Peter, thank you very much for your articulate and insightful discussion of curatorial practices within exhibitions. I especially appreciated your discussion of the emotional turn regarding visitor engagement with archives, as well as the reframing of archival documents as artworks via their exhibition display, as you mentioned in the Michelangelo exhibition.
One part of your presentation that especially interested me was the digital and analog components of the new archival spaces at Tate Britain. Your discussion of the intergenerational engagement that happens in the digital gallery, with family members turning pages together, etc., reminded me of an analog counterpart at an art installation in Santa Fe called The House of Eternal Return, designed and operated by the collective Meowwolf ( https://meowwolf.com/visit/santa-fe/about ). It's a very different experience because you're basically walking through a trippy haunted house and trying to figure out what happened to the fictional family that used to live there, but there's still a strong archival impulse underpinning the project, with visitors sifting through documents, watching videos, and otherwise reconstructing the family's lives via memorialization. When I was there I also noticed an intergenerational trend, with grandparents and grandchildren, etc. working together to solve the mystery. It makes me wonder about the intergenerational potential of archives in terms of memory, documents, etc.
More specifically to your presentation, I was wondering whether the archivists at Tate Britain have noticed a similar intergenerational usage in the archival galleries focused on print material, or whether it tends to happen primarily in spaces where digital activities are available. In the wake of COVID-19 and its impact on museums in terms of visitation, moreover, I'm also wondering whether you've observed any increase in the use of digital archives affiliated with art museums, or whether it's too soon to tell.
Thank you again for a great presentation. I appreciated having the opportunity to learn more about your research.
Dear Sara, thank you for your kind comments. The House of Eternal Return sounds very exciting and a great way to explore and use documentation and archives in a way that can really appeal to broader audiences!
The intergenerational potential of archives is a really interesting one; I think there is a relationship here between document and memory, with echoes of oral history and the interrelationship – and perhaps tensions – between written and spoken accounts of the past. At Tate, I think the intergenerational use of archives seemed to happen principally in the digital gallery, and this is something that seems to happen in other places too – at Archives+ in Manchester, the archivists there commented on intergenerational experiences with the digital screens and interactives in their interpretive exhibition space, with older family members sharing their memories and younger ones using their skills with technology. The conversations suggest that this is something that happens most clearly with digital exhibits, but it’s less clear what kind of intergenerational experiences happen with physical exhibits and print material – some more research needed!
Within archives generally I think there has been a greater increase in digital use due to COVID-19, although there is already an established trend towards digital and online forms of access. I’m not sure what impact the pandemic has had on digital archive use in art museums, but at Tate this is certainly something which the archivists there are focusing on more generally; a key part of Archives and Access was the digitisation programme, with over 52,000 items being published online.
Thanks Sara! Peter