Skip to main content

Emily Crane is a PhD student at the University of East Anglia. Her PhD focuses on the contemporary artist exchanges within the Triangle Network, with specific focus on Africa and South Asia and is entitled Navigating the void: The Triangle Network of artist-led initiatives. Crane has become a contributor to the Triangle blog. In this, her first blog post Crane shares her experience of looking through the archive of Triangle activity, currently housed at Gasworks, London, and discusses the nature of the archive more generally.

The infallibility of the archive has long been exposed to its more fragmentary and partial nature,  capable of being utilised, manipulated and distorted.  What is included and excluded is a political concern, and what constitutes an archive has been questioned.

With this in mind, it is almost impossible to conceive of what an archive of a network such as Triangle might look like. How can a multifaceted set of relationships across the world be represented in any single place, and how can the explosive creative activities that happen throughout the network be represented by administrative papers, photographs and booklets?

Considering these nonsensical questions, I have nevertheless been spending much time pouring through the archival boxes stored at Gasworks. Aware of the partiality of the stories such an archive might suggest to me, I continue to look with the addiction of a treasure hunter with my metal detector in hand. The boxes hold over twenty years of materials that have been accumulate through the London office: correspondences in the form of letters, cards, faded faxes and emails;  reports and meeting minutes; funding applications; newspaper clippings, gallery flyers, workshop catalogues, artist postcards; and the occasion sketch, artist publication, poster or workshop related remnant. Although much of the materials I have been considering are tied to specific logistical arrangements for workshops or studio buildings, there is a wealth of material collected that more generally pertains to events happening in many artworlds across the globe.

These bits of paper and information form part of the network, each piece having had some agency amongst many actors. Each document has a materiality of its own. The faded faxes are now hardly legible, their look and feel set in a past age. Evidence of the changes to technology, they prompt reflection on how we are able to communicate. In this materiality one is reminded of the mechanisms through which a network functions, and how central communication is to the building of relationships and opportunities. Furthermore, amongst the more formal documents can be found many personal greetings and gestures, handwritten letters and cards signed off 'with love' or 'send my love to he/she/them'. Such details suggest a network built on a foundation of friendships and goodwill that spans continents.

Prevalent amongst the administrative paperwork, letters, faxes, budgets etc, is evidence of artists and coordinators travelling through the network to various places across the world. These traces suggest people met, places visited, artwork made or seen, and tales told.  As Jayce Salloum writes about her experience of archives,  ‘[y]ou can walk into the vaults, there are files, stacks and shelves of material. The records are static but movement is written all over them.’ A first experience of the boxes suggests an odd stillness and quietness to the archive, yet as one beginning to explore there is a significant witnessing to the tremendous amount of energies that have been spent making things happen. It is this impetus for creating new and exciting opportunities within the network that perhaps relegates the archival impulse; the future is pressing with its demands and potential.

As a researcher it is tremendously useful to get the names, dates, place names of events that have happened, but for me this can only ever make up part of the research. Although a good starting point and helpful preparation, I am always too aware that the archival materials can only reveal so much. It is in conversations with artists that one really gets a sense of what the workshops, residencies, or studios are about. Yet I am increasingly aware that my conversations can be guided by what I already know from the archive; interviews with new people can sometimes be unfocused or difficult and it helps to have prompts.  In this sense the archive is always in relation to the memories of the people I talk to, all of whom have slightly different stories to share and points to emphasise. Conversations and visits to places brings these archival materials to life, and makes the research seem vivid and real. Reversely, details that have come up in conversations can later be clarified with the help of archival material. If an archive can help jog a memory, or set a fact straight then it is worth preserving and using. On its own it is an assemblage of past things that seems to offer clarification and demand interaction. My work threads in and out of the archive, bringing it into the present and bringing the present into the past.

Emily Crane