msdm a nomadic house-studio-gallery for photographic art and curatorial research, an expanded practice of the artist's book, photobook publishing and peer-to-peer collaboration created by contemporary artist paula roush
Activating the Archive presents the work of 10 artists that explore and question the malleable nature of visual archives and the many ways that they can be activated through contemporary practices.
Archives hold the promise of continual exploration, however, before embarking on this quest we must first understand them as places for construction rather than sites of excavation. Perhaps this notion of potentiality is the reactive force guiding artists around the often-hampering hand of official archival procedures. Within this exhibition the work of 10 artists highlight the malleable nature of visual archives, and the many ways that they can be activated through contemporary practices.
Themes such as preservation, restoration, and organization, are usually central to discussions around the archive, yet the works displayed here attest to the equal importance of creativity and the freedom of use. Despite sharing an archival underpinning, these works are all strongly unique, and detail the myriad of ways that this material can approach universal subjects through artistic intervention. In turn, our understandings of photographs, why they are archived, and ultimately how they can be used is further expanded.
In the Tate paper, Perspectives: Negotiating the Archive, Sue Breakell describes how “an archive is now understood to mean anything that is no longer current but that has been retained”. How and why photographic collections are retained is often based on a slippery encounter shrouded in subjectivity, which in turn further complicates our understanding of what constitutes an archive. In some cases within this exhibition, the act of retainment is orchestrated by the artist them self through acts of archival salvage from sites such as, flea markets, rubbish dumps, or simply the street.
However an archive is formed, activation is the key to new readings and new directions. All of the works encountered here are testament to this endeavour where the artists are inventing archives, performing the archive, connecting archives, creating online archives, and re-imagining personal archives.
This online exhibition is part of the current IC Visual Lab programme Activating the Archive, which has included a symposium, workshops, talks, and an upcoming artistic commission. These events have been ongoing over an eight-month period and are supported by the Arts Council of England.