An Inventory of Traces: Rethinking public archives and collections beyond the nation/state

Isobel Harbison, Lecturer, Art Department, Goldsmiths,

Sara Greavu, Curator of Visual Arts, Project Arts Centre, Dublin,            

In the epigraph of Julietta Singh's No Archive Will Restore You, Antonio Gramsci wrote, ‘The starting-point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is, and is “knowing thyself ” as a product of the historical processes to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory.... Therefore it is imperative at the outset to compile such an inventory.’

Taking as its basis the current absence of a national museum for the collection and preservation of works of modern and contemporary art in Northern Ireland / the north of Ireland (NI), this session invites papers by participants and scholars considering processes, methodologies or architectures of collecting, archiving and conservation across global territories, and particularly within sites of historical geopolitical conflict and/or where constituents have complex and contested relationships to the state. The panel will ask how we might collect, classify and preserve art works, gestures and traces of historical and social importance that sit within a territory but beyond the current remit or sole paradigm of a national collection, or the institutions that are formed and informed by a singular state apparatus? How do we create inventories to accommodate the traces, within artworks, of complex historical processes? How do we build such inventories through and with the communities that have produced and shaped them? How do we provide both safe spaces for and access to archive materials vital to a territory’s cultural heritage within an unstable landscape of highly changeable political policies and agendas?

Speakers & Abstracts

Ken Howard, Ralph Lillford and the Right to the Image of Conflict

Dr Clare Carolin

In 1971, RCA painting graduate Ralph Lillford travelled from England to the North of Ireland with the specific aim of making work based on eyewitness experience of the ‘Troubles’ that had commenced there in 1968. Lillford was the first artist whose work on that subject was acquired for the Imperial War Museum’s Art Collection. That the IWM Trustees became aware of Lillford’s ‘Troubles’ work precisely as they were making plans to create an ‘official artistic record’ of Operation Banner, suggests that he influenced their commissioning of Ken Howard, the Museum’s first and only ‘official artist in Northern Ireland’.

Between 1971 and 1978 Lillford and Howard visited the North regularly. First, under the wing of various regiments and later, on their own initiatives creating bodies of work that now reside in the IWM and National Army Museum (NAM) art collections. Howard claimed that the people he encountered as he worked en plein air in Belfast and Derry accused him of Army complicity and spying, while Lillford avers he was repeatedly arrested by the RUC and the Army who at least once confiscated his drawings. ‘Their objection’, he later said, ‘was that the drawing could be used to show the location of a gun position, or how the architecture could be used for military purposes, which is their opinion. My opinion is that what you see you should have the right to draw’. This paper maps the divergent trajectories of these two English painters’ work and their anomalous position in the collections of the IWM, where Howard’s ‘official artistic record’ has never been exhibited, and the NAM. I ask who has the right to own and to see these images: the British population on whose behalf they were commissioned and collected in the context of what British Prime Minister, Edward Heath termed a ‘propaganda war’; the security forces whose militarised labour they ostensibly record; or the citizens whose homes and faces they depict?

FRAMEWORK 2069: On the difficulties inherent in collecting Belfast’s ’peace walls’

Dr James O’Leary

Taking into consideration the potential challenges and difficulties of collecting, archiving and conserving elements of Belfast’s ’peace walls’ for future posterity, this paper questions the orthodoxy that all ‘peace walls’ need to be completely removed from the urban fabric of Belfast. It draws from observations of two very particular sites of transformation in Berlin - firstly the transformation of the site ‘Gestapo-Gelände’ into the Topograpie des Terrors (Topography of Terror) Documentation Center and, secondly, the remains of the Berlin Wall resurrected as a site of memory as the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial). Both projects are notable as they deal with landscapes of trauma which include authentic remnants of the infrastructures of domination and division that become their subject of examination. In both cases, the landscapes held very significant traces of past events, so there were legitimate questions raised about how best to respond to this landscape in a manner of appropriate levels of sensitivity. The meanings embedded in the site were anything but uniform, playing a role in multiple enmeshed narratives, spectacles, and memories – all of them ‘authentic’ to some degree. So, there were questions to be asked about whether monumental, artistic, archaeological, or documentary approaches to the site were most appropriate.

In a similar manner to how the German government successfully established the Bernauer Strasse area in Berlin as an area of extraordinary urban and political significance, this proposal suggests that, through the careful integration and re-use of elements of the built historical fabric of the city, that the spatial and material artifacts of the ‘peace walls’ can present a unique and compelling story of how the events of the conflict known as ‘the Troubles’ transformed this place forever, and left in its wake a set of monuments to its ongoing contestation, both politically and spatially.

Thinking Spain from Barcelona: National Identity Practices in the Iconographic Repertoire of Spain (1915-1923)

Dr Lucila Mallart

In the late 1910s the Catalan architects and art historians Josep Puig i Cadafalch (1867- 1956) and Jeroni Martorell (1877-1951) designed the Iconographic Repertoire of Spain, a gargantuan enterprise which aimed at visually recording “all of Spain’s art”. The project was developed within the context of the planning of the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibition, and was meant to provide a new, “scientific” account of the evolution of art in Spain. The Repertoire was generously funded and, by the early 1920s, over 80,000 files had been produced, covering everything from Iberian and Roman remains to Golden Age painting, folk arts, and urban planning in the old and new colonies of Cuba, the Philippines and Morocco. However, the project was interrupted by General Primo de Rivera’s coup d’état in 1923. Even though the 80,000 records have survived to this day (they are held by the National Museum of Art in Barcelona, MNAC, and the Museum of Archaeology of Catalonia, MAC), research on the Repertoire has been scant and fragmentary (Blesa & Cornet, 2001; Carrasco & Lacuesta, 2010; Perrotta 2017; Mallart 2018; Boada 2019). This paper will fill this gap by analysing the archival practices and national identity discourses that shaped the Repertoire. According to Serena & Caraffa (2014), photographic archives gave “visual substance to national identity”. But, what happens when both the content and the context of those archives, as is the case with the Repertoire, fall well beyond the limits of the traditional nation- state? Building on Epps & Cifuentes approach to national difference (2005), the paper will analyse the ways in which the Repertoire re-imagined the boundaries and characteristics of Spanish (and Catalan) national identity.

Doris Salcedo’s Fragmentos: Conflict, Contested Histories, and the Colombian State

Jamie DiSarno

The Peace Agreement of 2016 between the guerrilla group FARC and the administration of Juan Manuel Santos was meant to end Colombia’s internal armed conflict. As part of the agreement, Doris Salcedo produced Fragmentos, a public art space dedicated to the armed conflict’s memory. The space’s coarse floor tiles are constructed from 37 tons of weapons turned over by FARC. Rather than celebrate the history of the conflict, Salcedo wanted the conflict’s presence to be felt, literally, under the feet of viewers. The piece marks a refusal to monumentalize a war where 7 million people have been internally displaced and 220,000 killed. As a public space featuring a rotation of different artists, Fragmentos makes room for fragmented histories to be written and rewritten.

In 2021, artist Francis Alÿs displayed a series of works based on the aftermath of the war in Iraq. During the exhibition, Colombia’s President Ivan Duque covered up Alÿs’ work for a press conference condemning ongoing public demonstrations and their “incitement of violence, hate, discord, and the destruction of society.” In actuality, his administration was brutally cracking down on mass demonstrations against corruption and inequality, leaving more than 30 killed, many injured, and more disappeared. Without permission, Fragmentos became the staging ground for state propaganda. Indeed, Fragmentos and its relationship to ongoing conflicts in Colombia indicates the power of art to document conflicting histories and how that same power might be co-opted by the state.


DO NOT TAPE OVER: What would an AIDS activist video archive look like?

Ed Webb-Ingall

By the mid-1980s, the widespread availability of compact and affordable video camcorders allowed for the democratisation of video production and distribution by those impacted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The prolific use of video as a tool to challenge the misrepresentation of People With AIDS (PWAs) by AIDS Activists in the USA has received critical and historical attention including the establishment of a specific AIDS activist video archive, the publication of various books and several high-profile documentaries about groups such as ACT UP. Conversely, the use of video by and for AIDS activists in the UK remains largely unexplored.

In this paper, I will present my ongoing research collecting and digitising some of these alternative and activist UK AIDS videos, many of which have not been screened in public since they were first made. While these videos clearly engendered new forms of representation that fundamentally challenged the misrepresentation of HIV/AIDS, I will propose that their production and preservation evidence contrasting senses of the future. On one hand, the video-activists impacted by HIV/AIDs were making work with immediacy and a profound sense of urgency, without a clear sense of their futurity, while those with more medium-specific expertise were ambivalent about the form and subject matter of what was being produced by AIDS activists and the necessity of its long-term preservation. Through the examination of a selection of the videos that were made in the UK, I will ask what an AIDS activist video archive might look like now, who would it be for and how would the original politics and intentions of the videos continue to resonate in the present.



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