Cheeseman – Question 3
3How do you reconcile originality or creativity with values and practices often central to archival representation such as “authentic” or “faithful” representations of source materials and respect des fonds?
Teaching Associate and Honorary Research Fellow – University of Sheffield
Project Leader, Sandpit – Furnace Park
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 In my own work with the archive I have been positioned as a curator with a responsibility to an audience, not as an archivist with a responsibility to the archive. This mostly emanates from funding sources, compounded by working with the products of mass culture, which arguably make one a little less precious about fidelity. I have therefore never found much of an issue to reconcile here. In any case, my background in visual arts has made me comfortable collaborating with artists to comment on the archives that interest me. I will give two examples, the first of which is a creative intervention into “the archive.” I discovered that a particularly interesting band, Throbbing Gristle, had played a concert at the University of Sheffield Students’ Union in 1979. Per their artistic practice, they documented the performance and released it as a cassette tape. I was able to get a copy and invite an artist, Nick Kilby, to hold a performance with the tape, at the site of the original performance, on the thirty-third anniversary of the tape’s release. He held a séance, which a member of the original Throbbing Gristle audience recorded; we then released it as a cassette accompanied by an essay that I wrote. This unusual project served as a creative intervention into the archive, a representation that commented on the archival impulses of the group and allowed me, an artist, and hopefully others to think about some of the issues surrounding recorded music, performance art, industrial culture, theory, and the presence of the archive.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 The second example is from Do It Thissen. When designing the show, we were aware that we needed to balance fidelity to the public’s own engagement with the archival materials with any historicizing comment the exhibition may make on contemporary cultural activity in Sheffield. In other words, we would have to be faithful to the past while being careful to demonstrate that the present was still of artistic relevance. Our solution was to be as comprehensive with the past as possible and then invite contemporary artists to comment on, exhibit, and perform in the gallery space. In this spirit I also wrote a polemical piece on the material, which I advertised and distributed along with materials cataloging the exhibition. Such creative work invites others to think about and interpret the archive in their own way, side-by-side with more traditional representations of the archive. I think this is particularly important when presenting the popular culture archive, especially materials in living memory that are already familiar to some people. Creative work also takes away the sting some feel when seeing fragments of their own pasts repurposed by knowledge-making institutions such as the university.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 One example I see as a failed creative intervention into the archive is the recent John Peel Record Archive.1 This collection of musical recordings and ephemera is important to historians of popular music. Rather than catalog it, however, money was spent on presenting 3 percent of the collection in a creative, accessible, and attractive website, undoubtedly fun but of little use to researchers. While the project has definitely been a success in raising the public profile of the archive, it was, in my opinion, an opportunity lost. While I am unaware of the funding actualities and long-term plans behind the project, for me this remains an example in which originality and creativity were prioritized at the expense of (and not as a complement to) archival fidelity.