Performing Memory: Art Community, Archive & St Ives

WRITING: The Archive I

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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.

Written by JS101092

April 20, 2011 at 10:51 am

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