As a 3rd Year Fine Art undergraduate in the run up to my final Degree Show, I have had the incredible opportunity to undertake a student placement at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, as part of their Archive Digitisation Project. Throughout my time on my course I have developed a fascination with archives and the material and information they contain, with a particular interest in preservation and decay of history and collective memory. Therefore, to be able to learn all about the inner workings of an archive has given me an enriching insight that I have been able to transfer to my artistic practice.
The ICA is a unique institution as the bulk of their archive resides with the Tate, where it is properly maintained and catalogued. My role is to create digitised copies of the material that remains with the ICA, which is mostly their monthly bulletins from the 1960’s, 80’s and 90’s. Opening each bulletin is like exploring a treasure trove of history- you never know what you might find.
I have also been fortunate enough to have trips to other archives arranged for me by the ICA, for example a few weeks ago I visited the archives at the University of Westminster, a place of many ‘firsts’ and rich with history- it was the location of Jimi Hendrix’s first UK performance (an impromptu moment in which he was invited up on stage to play), as well as many weird and wonderful scientific discoveries, such as the process of burning live plants onto plates (a method that didn’t last long as it was incredibly dangerous and not very useful, but interesting nonetheless!).
Nowadays, the ICA’s bulletin resides online, but already my scans have been uploaded to feature in blog about ‘Archive Fever’ within the art world at the moment. Through my placement I have discovered that it’s an exciting time to work in this sector, as many museums, galleries and organisations are looking back to their heritage and considering how it can be used in a contemporary light. I have learnt that today, the role of the archive is more than just being a passive container for information- in order for us to benefit from it we must engage with its contents and learn from what has come before us.
Because of my placement, I feel more confident about graduating this summer as I have a clear idea of the future career I will pursue, and the relevant experience to help get me there. I am thankful for the The University of Kent Work Experience Bursary as well as The School of Music and Fine Art, as they have supported my travel to and from London as well as helping balance my studies and work during this busy time of year! I would like to encourage more organisations to take on art students for placement work, as our passion and creativity allows us to really engage with what we do, and often create something unexpected from it!
The outcome of my work, along with 40 other students (BA and MA) will be available to view at the SMFA Degree Show, which opens on the 20th of May, 2017 at the Historic Dockyard, Chatham.