Posts Tagged ‘Archive’
The Intangible Archive is the project that I’ve been working on, with sound artist/composer Philip Reeder. I presented on it last week at the Association of Art Historians conference, and I’m on my way to San Diego to present at Museums and the Web 2012. Rather than a linear, temporal sound walk, it’s a spatial way of engaging with memory. It’s an extension of the archive, where I’ve re-archived memories according to their links with place. People can search the archive by walking around St Ives, looking for memories to listen to. It comes out of my practice, which asks people to articulate their memories and finds creative ways of sharing those memories with others. Sharing memories with others is a form of re-archiving; augmenting the memories others through encounter. This creates a multiple, distributed archive, where there are many different forms of remembered encounter, each one unique, connected to place, and archived in the memory of each person that searches for fragments of the archive to make their own story of place. Voices that don’t often get heard getting their say in history. Making archival silence into archival noise.
The Intangible Archive is an archive without walls. It’s a way of encountering memories from the archive, outside of the archive itself. Using mobile technology and headphones, participants can create their own history of place by walking around St Ives. A soundtrack composed by Philip Reeder, from field recordings of St Ives, plays while participants walk, and at certain points, voices from the Memory Bay oral history archive will speak. Instead of being told a particular history from a particular point of view, the direction of walking determines the narrative.
There are more video snippets at http://theintangiblearchive.wordpress.com
This is an interesting discussion from this morning’s Today programme on Radio 4. Following the announcement yesterday that poet Wendy Cope‘s personal archive, including 40, 000 emails, has been sold to the British Library for £32, 000.
Are emails ‘damned unromantic’? I love a letter, but surely the medium isn’t the message, and content is more useful to a researcher than its aesthetics?
John Sutherland, professor of literature at University College London, and Richard Ovenden, of the Bodleian Library, consider whether emails really denote a digital form of art, and what impact the email will have for future literary research.
I’m fascinated by the use of emulators or original machines to access digital archives. Not only does this reproduce the idea of rummaging around looking for scraps of memory on paper, it reproduces, in a small way, the working environment of the author. Perhaps reading wordprocessed documents on a green and black screen appears to lack the romanticism of haptic engagement with actual paper, but in years to come I think this will hold as much fascination for researchers as an old diary. It’s tech-nostalgia. Just as an old typewritten document connects the reader to the typewriter, and to imaginings of a memory in a particular time, so will the sensuality of chunky click-clacking on the keys of a BBC Micro, or old Apple Macintosh. Paper and its ephemeral nature bestows a certain aura on the object, yet there is also a fragile ephemerality to these kinds of technology and their digital archives, and if they are not preserved then the loss is as great. In a century from now, researchers and archivists will encounter digital archives with as much of the excitement of discovery, and the magical quality of the object, that paper engenders today.
The St. Ives Archive is housed [housed; where the memory lives; the dwelling place for the memories; where memory sleeps until it is disturbed and rearranged to become history] in the Upper Chapel Room, St. Andrew’s Street. If you walk along the seafront towards the train station, you’ll find the St. Ives Society of Artists clinging to the very edge between land and sea. If you walk the other way, past the cafes and shops, weaving in and out between the holiday-makers in the summer, or trying to escape the penetrating winds in the winter, you’ll find the 15th Century church, and the harbour, and beyond that, Porthmeor beach and Tate St. Ives.
The building itself is constructed in granite, its walls almost half a metre thick. The Upper Chapel Room is found by going through a small set of blue double doors at the side, ascending the steep carpeted staircase and at the top, turn right and go through the glazed wooden door off the small landing. The space itself reveals its construction, white-painted beams hold-up the Methodist‘s architectural simplicity, the attic-like space filled with light by the large windows at each end [three per wall, two small with four sections, two with eight panes, two with six, and a larger window in the between, three instead of two wide, and an extra row of two-by-six windows on top].
It’s not an very big space, neither is it small. The room is the whole of the floor, save for a small landing with a toilet and a cupboard, and at the far corner, a latch door leads to a little kitchen with its assortment of mugs, tea-bags and tea-towels, and a kettle that seems slow to boil [though not as slow as the one in the kitchen in the house in which I live].
At the kitchen end, is a computer that stores the oral history archive and slide-shows of photos, and next to it is the microfiche machine. Microfiche is still an esoteric thing of great mystery to me. I only partly understand it. We need to become better acquainted, the microfiche and I. Working clockwise around the room from the microfiche on the back wall next to the kitchen, there is the Family History Corner. This is for actual genealogy, rather than the genealogy of ideas or knowledge. Along the long wall that faces the door, are cupboard-topped shelves that reach from floor to ceiling, except because the roof is sloped, there is a gap. I’ve often thought it might be a good place to sleep [sleep with sleeping memories], rather than just daydreaming.
On the shelves are a rainbow of ring-binders, filed not quite according to their position on the spectrum. They are filed according to subject, and to each subject a colour is assigned. It starts with blue for Family History at the far end, then red for Buildings, purple for History, green for Maritime, and yellow, for sun, sand and Tourism. Black ringbinders are for the serious matter of the arts. Grey archive boxes contain monochrome memories in black and white photos. See-through plastic boxes hold precious glass plates and photographic negatives; look through to see.
Turning to face in the opposite direction is the other wall with the big windows which face the sea, with St. Eia’s Church to the left and the Society of Artists to the right. You can just see the see in the middle, between the rooftops opposite. You can also see Godrevy, dunes, sand, but no lighthouse. Along this wall are computers. These are necessary for lots of reasons, yet the data stored in the memory of the volunteers is far easier to access, and can be retrieved using simple voice activated commands. This is much more user friendly, and needs no special training to use. The search results are filtered, and come with intelligent metadata, and recommendations for further searches. Apparently, this is also how the Semantic web, or Web 3.0 will work. There are no accession numbers, or filing systems required. However, the system of memories is unique, sophisticated and individualised.
Turning again to the other long wall, there is a fireplace, not in use for fireside tales, with a sign above that says ‘THIS IS A DISUSED MINESHAFT it has been fenced for your protection PLEASE HELP TO KEEP IT SAFE’. Next to this there are three filing cabinets, two brownish beige and one royal blue. From left to right, they respectively contain administrative things, Artists and Sculptors and General Art (A-Z), and Volunteers and Displays and Writers and Poets. Next to filing cabinets is a dividing wall of desks and photocopier at ninety degrees to the wall, ending in a display table with local history books and postcards of local views for sale. The door to the stairs is on the other side of this half-wall. This divides the volunteer’s working area from the public’s working area. This separation is further defined by the difference between the assorted proper desks on the one side, and smaller tables, each with two assorted chairs, on the other. The visitors’ side tables, three of them, are an interwar shade of lemon syllabub. Modern red and black chairs sit in pairs with the lemony tables. The half-glazed door leads out on to the landing again, and on the landing is the cupboard where books are stored, and not unlike in Borges’ Library of Babel, the toilet.
But as Bachelard said, one never goes downstairs from the attic.
I was going to go for a walk around St. Ives today, and take pictures of things. However, it looked like this, and although I don’t mind getting wet, don’t think the new device would like it much.
Janet and Alban made another video on Friday. I’ll post about that as soon as it’s available. It’s an incredibly touching story from the archive.
I really think that we should pay more attention to the things under our feet. We take sanitation for granted, generally. It symbolises the literal construction of place. Proper sewers and streetlighting signify the coming of urban modernity at least as much as the railway, if not more so. And these major sanitation works began in 1895. Further major works were carried out in the 1930s, and then not much happened until the Clean Sweep initiative in the early 1990s, as far as my cursory research into the parallel development of town and good sewage systems go. Not very poetic, but interesting, I think, and surprisingly relevant to my research. Although not that much, so I’m going to stop going on about effluent. For now, at least.
The archive is closed this week for a stock take and general tidy up. This means that there are boxes of interesting things all over the place, and a great opportunity for me to have a rummage around and get to know the archive better.
I started on a few boxes of documents that had come from the St. Ives Borough Council Planning Department. More interesting than perhaps it initially sounds, highlights included grant approval documents for people living in downalong to have hot and cold running water and indoor toilets installed. These were dated right up to the early seventies and I found it shocking that several years after the moon landings, people still didn’t have indoor sanitation. I realise I’m probably being naive, and I’m sure this wasn’t unique to St. Ives.
The fascination with sanitation and utilities continued with the oldest documents from this box, beautifully copperplated contracts between the Town Council and an engineering company for the public works, including the installation of sewers, gullies, manholes, ventilation etc. which dates from 1893.
An interest in the town’s sewage system may seem far removed from the history of the creative community in St. Ives, but the works to improve the sanitation were essential to the local economy, making the streets more attractive to visitors and residents. It’s only twenty years earlier that a guidebook recommends avoiding St. Ives because of its open sewers and fishy stinking effluent. The population is growing again by this time, and more housing is being built and a growing population requires modern streetlighting and proper drainage.
Further documents show public health improvements were made in the town in the 1930s, around the time of the slum clearances. According to Greta, WWII interrupted the clearances, or St. Ives would look quite different today, and as it is, only the area which is now the Sloop Inn car park was cleared. The residents were moved to new council houses in estates like Penbeagle, with proper indoor bathrooms. Considering the number of applications still received by the council for grants to install indoor plumbing and bathrooms in 1971, as documents in from the archive demonstrate, it was probably a sensible move. The oil-painted poverty may have attracted artists and tourists, but the reality of living without modern conveniences must have been a lot less poetic in reality.
Other really interesting things included an accounts ledger from a clothes shop, containing details of purchases from the early 1900s until the 1950s, and another ledger detailing the fund-raising activities of some eminent St. Ives ladies who worked hard to raise money for a variety of causes during the First World War.
I’ll upload some photos next week, once I’ve got my fancy shiny new smart phone.
So, I’m a little late in posting this as there has been so much to take in in my first couple of weeks at the St. Ives Archive. Janet Axten and the archive’s volunteers have been really brilliant and helpful in introducing me to the archive, and I’ve even got my own badge, which I’m really pleased about.
The archive was set up in 1996 and has been developing steadily ever since. Currently based in the Upper Chapel Room in St. Andrew’s Street, there are plans for further development, and therefore it’s a very exciting time to get involved.
I’ve been introduced to so many interesting people, I’m creating new networks and connections and becoming part of the community here at the archive, as at the same time I begin to explore the historical connections of the creative community in St. Ives. I’m really starting to understand better what I’m trying to do, here, and how by extending my research networks I can extend my research. I’ve also been considering what John Hall has said about the autobiographical nature of research. Previously, I was aware that this research allows me to explore and combine my interests in education,cultural heritage and technology, but I think I realise now that my research is autobiographical on so many levels.
The town has got its own internet TV channel, St. Ives TV and the archive is hoping to produce one film a month on something from the town’s history, so I’m hoping to be able to get involved in that.
Mary has kindly invited me to the 91st anniversary meeting of the Old Cornwall Society in January. This will not only give me a chance to hear her speak in Cornish dialect, which she’s written several books on, but also hear some other talks.
Janet has suggested that I attend the meetings for the planning of the St. Ives Festival, which happens every September. This will be a great way of meeting people involved, and I hope to have a project to launch at the festival. I’m excited.