Archives and Curatorial Practices: Mapping their Entanglements
AHRC funded Doctoral Studentship
This project takes as its starting point the assertion that shifting intellectual, social, economic, technological and professional conditions relating to the archive have generated new imperatives, platforms and opportunities for curatorial activities. Many cultural commentators have noted an increased attention to the archive in contemporary life, a kind of cultural and scholarly turn toward the archive (Velody 1998; Derrida 1998; Osborne 1999; Manoff 2004; Stoler 2002; 2009). Alongside developments in the arenas of historical, political, creative and cultural fields of inquiry, digital and networking technologies have led to a re-evaluation of our understanding of the archive and broadened its scope. The nature of curation has been similarly subject to growing levels of cross-disciplinary inquiry since the latter part of the twentieth century; curatorial practice now represents expanded discursive areas and fields of practice (O’Neill 2012; Martinon 2013). At the same time, increasing specialization and academicization of these fields of practice, alongside additional conditions that have seemingly democratized and “opened up” archives and broadened curatorial agency, have further extended relationships between curatorial practice and archives.
Yet despite the range of archive related curatorial activities taking place, the nature of these practices – and the discursive, practical and professional conditions that shape them – have not yet been fully considered. While it has been shown that curatorial work constitutes a contribution to and modification of the archive on which it works (Richter and Drabble n.d.; Yiakoumaki 2009), the complexities and interrelationships between archives and curation remain undefined and underexplored. Previous research in this area has adopted discipline-specific approach, drawing on discourse that presuppose or privilege certain definitions, forms of practice, terms of accountability, professional profiles and curatorial outcomes (see for instance Spieker 2008; Yiakoumaki 2009; Crookham 2015). Reading across discursive fields reveals how authors often employ the same lexicon with different intent and underlying assumptions and draw on prototypical examples that reinforce familiar conceptualizations of these arenas. To that end, this research builds on existing discipline-specific studies of both archives and curatorial practices by examining their discursive terrain comparatively across different fields of practice.
The study considers first how archives are understood and used in the literature produced from within the archive profession as well as from a broad-range of sources authored by scholars from outside of the profession; and second, it examines curatorial discourse across three distinct areas of practice: curatorship (working under the logic of the museum), curating (under the logic of the temporary exhibition), and the curatorial (under the logic of the curatorial project/event/resource in the expanded and distributed terrain of knowledge and culture production). In reading across fields and scales of practice and through different discursive formations, this research brings together previously unexamined correspondences, configurations, concepts and forms of activity typically considered at some remove from one another, in order to better grasp the particular tensions, challenges and opportunities for curatorial practice in engagement with archives.
A further aim of the project is to explore the characteristics of the archive that may require or provoke sympathetic, emotional and ethical responses, or generate particular risks and dilemmas, in order to contribute to our understanding of how archives are implicated in processes of meaning making. Situating this analysis in dialogue with practice-based case studies provides an opportunity to explore how overarching custodial, ethical, intellectual and social concerns are negotiated through curatorial methods as part of the increasingly diverse range of interpretive and research activities being undertaken with archives.
Contact Liz at: E.Bruchet@Brighton.ac.uk