reading from a TATE paper, Perspectives: Negotiating the Archive

Perspectives: Negotiating the Archive 1

SUE BREAKELL, a Tate paper.

During a recent crit session with my supervisors it was pointed out that the work I present at seminars and in installs at crits, is essentially traces of the relationships I wish to understand. I’m presenting traces, dross, sometimes a kind of archive of social relations, exchange and dialogue. The quilt of portraits from What remains at DEMO, the colouring in books and pages by my nana and my daughter, the radio broadcasts where I share women’s stories, and the objects and performance in an earlier iteration of Golden oyster (not a true oyster), and the accompanying performance, Keep care. It has been challenging at times to discern where the ‘art’ is, and how to bring that to the institutional space, or any space, when the most significant moment happens in private or in the space between people, which, within my practice is not usually public.

So, reading from Perspectives: Negotiating the Archive and listening through the accompanying audio from The Archival Impulse, I’ve been able to connect some key aspects of my work within a practice of artists working with the archive.

Within the audio of the conference, I could relate to some aspects of other artists processes, that I’m attempting to ‘make the absent visible’, I’m giving access to something intimate, yet also editing that content, it is possible to create my own stories, true or false with an archive, and I can create my own myths for my own purpose. Archives may represent relationships and create connections and relationships with objects; object to object, as well as object to person/people, archives are always edited, sometimes by multiple people.

My subject matter circulates around relationships.

Understanding relationships.

Re iterate.

Re member.

Seems to be about making the intangible/absent visible.

Comparing the Special Collection with the Archive, with regards to an artists’ archive, “…an archive is a set of traces of actions, the records left by a life – drawing, writing, interacting with society on personal and formal levels. In an archive, the sketchbook would ideally be part of a larger body of papers including correspondence, diaries, photographs – all of which can shed light on each other (for example, a diary can locate the artist in a particular place at a particular time, which can help date the contents of the sketchbook).”23

So it is relationships objects have with one another that inform a collection, and create an archive. With my work, I wish to focus on the relationship between the objects and people I relate them with, in turn reinforcing the relational nature of an archive.  These relationships may be called up through objects I chose to privilege, which may or may not have a direct relationship with the people I’m interacting with. My process involves selecting or recreating objects for the purpose of telling a story and making the ‘absent visible’ or the lost tangible.

“There is no one fixed meaning of any archival document: we may know the action that created the trace, but its present and future meanings can never be fixed.” I consider this statement as I select, arrange and represent the objects in I used to find dead insects in your pockets, the objects seem to be in a state of flux during this process, I expect that at some point there will be something of a ‘landing’ or a pause in this process. I’m also creating drawings and embroideries of selected objects as I work. Further extending the dialogue between the objects, myself and the people I’m relating to, this forms a kind of triangulation which I consider to be somewhat live and a process of exchange within this work as a kind of archive.

As I work with, add to, and edit the objects, I am interfering with their origin story, adding my own layers to them, these objects also hold projections of memory, which is slippery and subjective. I can chose an aspect of a story, I can recreate a moment or allude to a shared experience or exchange, the object can be an authentic trace or representative of a memory, in the same way a two people may remember a share experience differently, forming their own story, or filling in gaps.

“An archive designates a territory – and not a particular narrative. The material connections contained are not already authored as someone’s – for example, a curator’s – interpretation, exhibition or property; it’s a discursive terrain. Interpretations are invited and not already determined.”3

It is this discursive quality that I’m wanting to highlight in I used to find dead insects in your pockets, and I consider this a process that connects with the objects, the viewer, myself, and the people connected with the objects I’m working with. These are intimate and diverse connections, and span generations, and life/death, reach into my past and back again.

It is the dialogue or discourse that I will write about more fully in relation to, and between, the objects and traces of relationships, in response to David Bohm’s On Dialogue.




[1]. Tate, ‘Perspectives: Negotiating the Archive – Tate Papers’, Tate, accessed 24 November 2019,

[2.] ibid.

[3.] ibid.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s