Sue Breakell is Archivist and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Brighton Design Archives. Her research engages with critical thinking about the nature, meaning and practice of archives, focussing on their use in visual arts contexts and in the history and practice of art and design.
Sue is interested in the diversity of perspectives on archives, at the intersection between stewardship, research and creative activities, as well as the new iterations of the archive these produce. Reflecting the collections with which she works, Sue also has interests across the history of twentieth-century British art and design and their contexts, with a particular focus on the mid-century and the First and Second World Wars.
Sue Breakell is Archivist at the University of Brighton Design Archives and a Senior Research Fellow. Her research engages with critical thinking about the nature, meaning and practice of archives, focussing on their use in visual arts contexts and in the history and practice of art and design.
Sue is interested in the diversity of perspectives on archives, against a background of museological and critical discourses. Her engagement takes place at the intersection of stewardship, research and creative activities, involving a range of approaches to the notional and physical archive, as well as the new arrangements and iterations of the archive produced by those processes. This work also touches on digital humanities and on the place and nature of archives and memory in contemporary culture.
Sue’s other areas of research reflect the collections with which she works: the history of twentieth century British art and design and their contexts, with a particular focus on the mid-century and the First and Second World Wars. Recent research has included the 1940s period in the career of the art historian Kenneth Clark, a founding member of the Council of Industrial Design, whose archive is part of the Design Archives collections. She has worked closely on the archives of the architect Joseph Emberton and the designer H A Rothholz, and is currently working on that of FHK Henrion, with a particular interest in the impact of his experiences as an emigre designer.
With an academic background in English Studies, Archive Studies and the History of Art, Sue worked for many years in archives in national museums and galleries, before coming to the University in 2009. She has extensive experience of working with archives of all sizes and kinds, including cataloguing the papers of Kenneth Clark and other large archives of modern British art and artists at Tate Archive; working as both War Artists Archivist and Museum Archivist at the Imperial War Museum, and as Company Archivist at Marks and Spencer. Prior to her post at Brighton she was head of Tate Archive, where she was responsible for all aspects of the archive’s work, including acquisitions, cataloguing, preservation and access, as well as for Tate’s own institutional records during the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act.
An assessment of ways in which the developments of Web 2.0 have allowed archives to open up their collections in new ways, to more diverse audiences.
This chapter considers aspects of reader engagement with archival material, and the new iterations that this generates.
Breakell, Sue (2016) Exhibiting 'the taste of everyday things': Kenneth Clark and CEMA's wartime exhibitions of Design In: Farrelly, L. and Weddell, J., eds. Design objects and the museum. Bloomsbury, London. ISBN 9781472577238
Breakell, Sue (2015) Archives & Records [Edited Collections]
Moriarty, Catherine and Breakell, Sue (2015) Joseph Emberton: the architecture of display [Exhibition]
Breakell, Sue (2015) ‘The Exercise of a Peculiar Art-Skill’: Kenneth Clark’s Design Advocacy and the Council of Industrial Design Visual Culture in Britain, 16 (1). pp. 42-66. ISSN 1471-4787
Breakell, Sue (2015) Archival practices and the practice of archives in the visual arts [Edited Collections]
Breakell, Sue and Whitworth, Lesley (2013) Émigré designers in the University of Brighton Design Archives Journal of Design History, 28 (1). pp. 83-97. ISSN 0952-4649
Breakell, Sue (2011) 'Sites of excavation, sites of construction: the modern visual arts archive' CILIP Rare Books Newsletter, 90. pp. 6-11. ISSN 0959-1656
Breakell, Sue (2011) Encounters with the self: on the nature of archives In: The future of archives and recordkeeping: a reader. Facet Publishing, London, UK. ISBN 9781856046664
Breakell, Sue (2010) For one and all: participation and exchange in the archive of the future In: Bailey, Chris and Gardiner, Hazel, eds. Revisualizing visual culture. Digital research in the arts and humanities series . Ashgate, London, UK. ISBN 9780754675686
Breakell, Sue (2010) Evolving archival interfaces and the University of Brighton Design Archives Art Libraries Journal, 35 (4). pp. 12-17. ISSN 0307-4722
Breakell, Sue (2008) Perspectives: negotiating the archive Tate Papers (9). ISSN 1753-9854
Breakell, Sue and Worsley, Victoria (2007) Collecting the traces: an archivist's perspective Journal of Visual Arts Practice, 6 (3). pp. 175-189. ISSN 1470-2029
Breakell, Sue (2006) The UK Freedom of Information Act and its impact on museums and galleries, in: Issues in Conservation Documentation: Digital Formats, Institutional Priorities and Public Access Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, New York, USA.
Breakell, S. and Whitworth, L. ''A valuable stimulus to design development': six emigre designers at the University of Brighton Design Archives' in Designs on Britain: Great British design by Great Jewish designers (exhibition catalogue), Jewish Museum London (2017)
'Exhibiting "the taste of everyday things": Kenneth Clark and CEMA's wartime exhibitions of design' in Farrelly, Liz and Weddell, Joanna. Design Objects and the Museum. Bloomsbury, London (2015)
‘Encounters with the self: on the nature of archives’ in Hill, Jennie, ed. The future of archives and recordkeeping: a reader. Facet Publishing, London (2011)
‘For one and all: participation and exchange in the archive of the future’. In: Bailey, Chris and Gardiner, Hazel, eds. Revisualizing visual culture. Digital research in the arts and humanities series. Ashgate, London (2010)
Archives and Records 36 (1), 2015. Breakell was editor of this special issue on the subject of visual arts archives, and wrote the editorial, 'Archival practices and the practice of archives in the visual arts'.
Breakell, S (2015). '"The exercise of a peculiar art-skill": Kenneth Clark's design advocacy and the Council of Industrial Design'. Visual Culture in Britain 16 (1): pp42-66
Breakell, S. and Whitworth, L. (2013) ‘Emigré Designers in the University of Brighton Design Archives’ Journal of Design History, 28 (1), pp83-97
Breakell S. (2010) ‘Evolving archival interfaces and the University of Brighton Design Archives’, Art Libraries Journal, 35:4, 2010
Breakell, S. (2008) ‘Perspectives: negotiating the archive’ Tate Papers, 9. http://www.tate.org.uk/download/file/fid/7288
Breakell, S. and Worsley, V. (2007) ‘Collecting the traces: an archivist’s perspective’, Journal of Visual Arts Practice, 6 (3). Based on an invited paper at symposium ‘Did Hans Namuth kill Jackson Pollock: The Problem of Documenting the Creative Process’. A collaborative project between The Visual Intelligences Research Project, Institute for the Contemporary Arts at Lancaster University, the Journal of Visual Art Practice and Camberwell College of Arts
'Only connect: digital archives and the Exploring British Design project', at 'Graphic Design as cultural object: history, heritage and mediation in the digital age', University Iuav de Venezia, Venice, 22 February 2018.
Invited keynote speaker at symposium 'Life on the Outskirts: inspiration and interventions in small creative archives', Manchester Metropolitan University, 9 February 2018, part of an AHRC-funded project established by the University of Leeds, Manchester Metropolitan University and the Helen Storey Foundation.
'The sort of separation that is going to leave a trace in my life': emigre designers and the archive' at 'Designs on Britain: Jewish emigre designers', V&A, London, 30 November 2017.
'Between narrative and contingency: reconciling the archival turn'. At 'From Dust to Dawn: Archival Studies after the archival turn', University of Uppsala, Sweden, 15-17 November 2017.
Speaker at Open Set Lab, Netherlands, September 2017- January 2018, a new research programme on the intersection between design, film, art and the humanities, on the theme of 'Memory of the Future'. Breakell's lecture on 9 September is entitled 'The context of content: material and immaterial archival bodies'.
Panel member at 'Unboxed: artists and the archive', Hayward Gallery, London, 5-6 September 2017, exploring the Hayward's own archive as well as the broader context of archival practices.'The true object of study: the material body of the archive'. Invited lecture, University of Liverpool Department of History speaker series, 14 March 2017.
Speaker and panel member at 'Borders are for crossing: design, art and migration in the 20th and 21st centuries', De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, 11 March 2017. A collaboration between the University of Brighton's Internationalising Design History Research Cluster, the University of Brighton Design Archives and the De La Warr Pavilion.
Organised and gave introduction at ‘Matter and Meaning: Materiality and the Visual Arts Archive’, University of Brighton, 23 September 2016. Breakell co-organised this symposium, a collaboration between the University of Brighton Design Archives and the ARLIS Committee for Art and Design Archives (CADA).
'Material survival and the evolving paradigm of the design archive', Design and Time: Design History Society Conference, Middlesex University, 8-10 September 2016.
'The theory and practice of Archives: an introduction' at 'Navigating analogue, digital and the archive', a two-day workshop, part of the ARENA research programme, an AHRC-funded collaboration between the University of Brighton and Royal Holloway, University of London, 5-6 March 2015.
Panel member at 'The Imaginary Archive', Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, an event to accompany the exhibition of the same title, 29 January 2015. With artists Neal White and Paul Decker, and curator Nayia Yiakoumaki.
Chair, 'The archivist as curator', a workshop organised by the ARLIS Committee for Art and Design Archives, White Cube, London, 9 June 2014.
'Emigre design, transnational archives', with Lesley Whitworth, at 'Design Exchange" building collaborations across continents', an international symposium in Barcelona, organised by RMIT Design Archives, Melbourne, and the University of Brighton Design Archives, September 2013.
Invited keynote speaker at 'Archives and archival practices', an AHRC postgraduate student and staff workshop, University of Northumbria, organised by the Visual and Material Culture Group, 24 May 2013. Paper title: 'Creating, curating, consuming: taking a turn in the archive'.
'The taste of everyday things': Kenneth Clark's agenda for design around the Second World War, Association of Art Historians' annual conference, University of Reading, 11-13 April 2013.
'"The exercise of a peculiar art-skill": Kenneth Clark's design advocacy'. iota seminar, University of Brighton Faculty of Arts, November 2012.
'Kenneth Clark, Design and the Council of Industrial Design' at Tate Britain research seminar 'Kenneth Clark: a prism for British culture', May 2012.
Organised research seminar on F H K Henrion and his archive, and gave paper 'Art in everyday life: the archival F H K Henrion', University of Brighton, July 2012.
'Engaging the design community: the University of Brighton Design Archives and its networks', annual conference of the Archives and Records Association, Brighton, August 2012
‘Sites of Excavation, sites of construction: the modern visual arts archive’. invited paper for the CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Group Conference, Rare but not old’, University of Lancaster, September 2010. Published in CILIP Rare Books Newsletter, 90, Winter 2011, 6-11 http://www.cilip.org.uk/filedownloadslibrary/groups/rbsc/newsletter/rbn90a.pdf
‘”Something of our own selves”: talking archives’. Public lecture to accompany the exhibition ‘Christian Boltanski: Les Archives du Coeur’, Magasin 3 Gallery, Stockholm, Sweden, October 2008. Breakell was also interviewed on Norwegian national radio in connection with this event. http://www.magasin3.com/en/podcasts/lectures/
‘Reconstructing the ‘Diary’: between art, literature and archives in the work of Ian Breakwell’. Paper with Victoria Worsley at conference ‘Archive Fervour, Archive Further’, Aberystwyth, July 2008
‘Perspectives: negotiating the archive’. Paper at ‘Archival Impulse’ session at the Association of Art Historians conference, April 2008, for which I was also Tate convenor.
‘”Context is Half the Work”: activating the Artist Placement Group Archive’. Paper with Victoria Worsley at conference ‘The Philosophy of the Archive’, Edinburgh, April 2008
‘Archive Heaven’, invited paper with Victoria Worsley at ‘Per-forming the Archive’ conference, Newcastle, part of aprogramme of AHRC-funded training for postgraduate researchers organised by the School of Art and Design, Media and Culture, University of Sunderland, and Interface, University of Ulster, March 2008
Co-organised and gave introductory address at symposium ‘The Archival Impulse: Artists and Archives’, ARLIS/Tate Britain, November 2007
'Collecting the Traces: an archivist's perspective'. Invited paper at symposium 'Did Hans Namuth kill Jackson Pollock? The problem of documenting the creative process'. Visual Intelligences project, Institute for the Contemporary Arts at Lancaster University, the Journal of Visual Art Practice and Camberwell College of Arts, April 2007.
'Archive Heaven'. Invited paper at conference 'Performing the Archive', part of a programme of AHRC-funded training for postgraduate researchers organised by the School of Art and Design, Media and Culture, University of Sunderland, and Interface, University of Ulster, March 2007.
‘”A very potent force”: the archive of Kenneth Clark, Lord Clark of Saltwood’. Invited paper to the National Gallery History Group, London
Co-curator, with Professor Catherine Moriarty, of 'Joseph Emberton and the Architecture of Display', Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, 18 February - 17 May 2015.
Curator of archive component of a Cecil Collins/William Blake display at Tate Britain (display from permanent collection), 2008
Curator of archive component of Prunella Clough exhibition at Tate Britain, 24 March - 27 Aug 2007, and touring to Castle Museum, Norwich, and Abbott Hall Art Gallery, Kendal http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/prunellaclough/default.shtm
'Encounters with the Self: on the nature of archives' in Jennie Hill (ed.) The Future of Archives and Recordkeeping: a Reader (Facet, 2011)
"Gather[s] together the best international thinking on archival science from the UK, Europe, Canada, USA, Australia and South Africa… the contributors engage critically with the discourses of literary and cultural theory" (Library Review)
"Breakell nicely conveys the very real effects of the shifting interpretations of archival objects through intertextuality with other cultural objects and the engagement of subjective understanding… she makes a solid argument for the profession’s recognition of and creative responsiveness to this personalization of the archival experience" (Ariadne)
"An excellent read… strongly recommended for custodians of archives as well as archive users… a high quality academic text" (Records Management Journal)
'For one and all: participation and exchange in the archive of the future' in Chris Bailey and Hazel Gardiner (eds.) Revisualizing Visual Culture (Ashgate, 2010)
"Recommended for information professionals who are currently navigating the challenges of arts and humanities analysis and display" (Online Information Review)
Breakell's writings appear on bibliographies for a range of academic programmes internationally which focus or touch on archives.
Member of the Editorial Board of Archives and Records (formerly the Journal of the Society of Archivists). Breakell has peer reviewed for a range of journals including Journal of Design History; Archives and Records; Archivaria (the journal of the Association of Canadian Archivists) and Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies.
Peer reviewer for the National Archives' Archives Service Accreditation Scheme.
Member of the Expert Panel for the AHRC-funded 'Exploring British Design' project, 2014-15.
Invited expert for working sessions for the project and programme 'Processos de Archivo / Archival Processes' at Intermediae, Madrid, in collaboration with the artist Neil Cummings, November 2009.
Author of a report commissioned by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, ‘The UK Freedom of Information Act and Its Impact on Museums and Galleries’, for the international conservators' meeting ‘Issues in Conservation Documentation: Digital Formats, Institutional Priorities, and Public Access’, New York, 27 April 2006.
Member of the Arlis Committee for Art + Design Archives, 2013-2017. Breakell was previously a member of this committee (then called the Visual Archives Committee), and its Publications Officer, 2002-2007. As part of this committee, Breakell co-organised various training and study days and edited the publication First Steps in Archives: a Practical Guide (2004) which came out of one of the events.
Breakell co-organised and gave the introductory address at the symposium 'The Archival Impulse: Artists and Archives', ARLIS/Tate Britain, November 2007.
In 2007, Breakell led a successful funding bid to the Getty Foundation Archival Grant for cataloguing of the Naum Gabo archive and related activities at Tate Britain, and managed the project postholder.
Registered Member of the Archives and Records Association (RMARA).