Archives aLive: using art to explore archives

Continue reading about Archives aLive, our outreach project at the MRC. The final session of summer took an arty turn…

Before we all noticed, the fourth and last session was upon us, and this promised to be an interesting one. Jo Gane, a photographic artist who specialises in archival practice producing work for a museum and gallery audience paid us a visit to lead the last session. The objective was to show the students how art, especially archives, can interact with history.

 This session particularly appealed the students as it was organised in a different manner compared to the last three. We took them to the Helen Martin Studio at the Arts Centre, a lovely room with plenty of space and wide windows that let the light come in.

 The first couple of activities were centered around getting the students to understand the connection between art and archives, as it was a new way of exploring both these disciplines as opposed to what they had been doing in school. They soon got a sense of what Jo Gane does in her work and what the session was going to be about. If the third session asked them to think as sociologists, this session required them to think as artists, and they certainly did a good job.


 For the main activity of the session, the students were split up into groups and each one given an archive. The archives were all about historic events that had happened in England, such as the implementation of machinery to substitute factory workers or the impact of Thatcherism. Using this archive, they had to imagine and recreate a character, someone who would have been on a protest mostly around the 70s and 80s. When they had done this, they were asked to design and make a placard to convey their characters reason for protest. We were all pleasantly surprised with the creativity the students demonstrated, as they made really artistic placards that conveyed the information perfectly. What really stood out to me was the intelligent slogans they came up with. After the placards were finished, we took pictures of the students with them, emulating a protest. Jo Gane came up with the brilliant idea of projecting images of protests around the 70s to a wall and having the students stand in front so it looked like they were a part of it.


 Overall, I really enjoyed this session because it was different to what we had done on the other three, and it showed the more fun side of using archives. I myself as a history student have used archives before and had never thought they could be linked with art and photography. I think its important to show to the younger generations how interdisciplinary studying a degree can be.


This was the session that put an end to a month spent helping develop and conduct the archives alive project. Now that I have the big picture of what the project turned out to be, in my opinion it was a huge success. Session after session we watched the students interact more and more with the archives and we saw them get increasingly curious about university and what the future holds for them. Personally, it was a pleasure to be part of such an impacting initiative and I hope I can collaborate with the Modern Records Centre and outreach programs again at some point in my university career.

By Belén Higueras Vicente

The project continues in November when the students will turn their archive research into a creative performance piece, using their protest placards as inspiration.

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