Today I met with the Whitechapel Art Gallery’s Archivist, Gary Haines. Gary is coincidentally a fellow School of Art Birkbeck researcher as well as being the key body in charge of the Whitechapel’s vast archive of records produced by the Gallery from the past 100 years, including publications, rare documents, artists’ letters, photographs, graphic works, press records, exhibition plans and installations, recordings on tape and videos of artists, critics and curators.
The Whitechapel Archive is the perfect model to gauge and consider the systems in place in the Text Art Archive. The huge size of the Whitechapel archive underlined the necessity to keep archives somewhat loose, let its organisation anticipate a researcher’s wanderings, rather than strictly map them; do not lose sleep over ‘best practice’, let the logic and idiosyncrasies of the material guide how you structure the collection.
Here it was wonderful to see the feedback between the archive and the gallery – however they do not archive the actual art works, the ‘WAG Archive’ is mainly composed of exhibition material, admin and catalogues, press cuttings and education packs. While there is a generative and key system of exchange between the collection and the exhibition galleries, the archive a primarily document-based.
The reading room and archive exhibition room was definitely inspiring in terms of what can be set up as a space for engaging with archive material within the context of gallery curation.
It was a pleasure to talk with Gary about the practicalities as well as the intellectual practices of archiving. As researchers we shared a perspective on the various ‘ways into’ the material aspect of archives and how a priority for a project like this is to balance preservation with access. How one can experiment with access to the material however is what will make this project innovative – as well as the accessioning of artworks with the records.