Tending the archive – how re-use of ephemeral artworks contributes new knowledge to the archive that preserves them, strengthening the artworks and aiding their survival

  • Louise Curham

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    My research deepens understanding about using archives. I hypothesise that producing an account of the use of archived objects enriches not only the objects but also the archives and the society that administers them. I hypothesise that such accounts or ‘tales of use’ strengthen and thereby preserve archived objects, particularly in relation to ephemeral, performative cultural practices and artefacts that are not easily captured, stored and transmitted by digital means. Testing these hypotheses, my research takes the form of a ‘post’ practice-led case study, drawn from my practice in art and archives, whereby I re-enact a piece of media art from the 1970s. In the thesis I focus on the landmark film performance Man with Mirror(Guy Sherwin 1976). Before the research commenced, a colleague and I set down the rules and rigours of the performance in a ‘user’s manual’. In the course of this research, I track re-enactments of Man with Mirror as two artists try the manual, one with assistance from the manual’s authors, the other working alone with just the manual. With the rules and rigours set down as faithfully as possible in the manual, running them brings to light the gap between what can be made explicit in the text of a user's manual and what dwells implicitly or tacitly in the performing body of an ‘expert’ custodian of the artwork. I investigate the importance of this gap between externally recorded instructions and tacitly embodied know-how. I have discovered that a form of authenticity emerges from the unique conditions of each use of the manual. The user’s situation produces performances that vary from the original yet continue to point back to it, adding ‘growth rings’ that strengthen it. I conclude that this contextual richness is required for effective archival care of such cultural phenomena to strengthen them, and in the process, ensure their survival.
    Date of Award2021
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorRoss Gibson (Supervisor), Jen Webb (Supervisor), Angelina Russo (Supervisor) & Ana Sanchez Laws (Supervisor)

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