University of Gothenburg

Symposium: Archives, Art and Activism, London 3-5 September 2015

Archives, Art and Activism: Exploring Critical Heritage Approaches to Global Societal Challenges, symposium 3-5 September 2015, at University College London, in collaboration with Critical Heritage Studies at the University of Gothenburg.

Symposium programme & abstracts
Thursday 3rd September

It is widely accepted that history is the result of a process of interpretation, of mediums, archives, narrations, stories, and re-interpretations. Interference is the emotive disposition we develop towards an event, or better towards a residue of that event, which then becomes narration and transformation into a history book. Subjectivity, and the influence it has in relation to an event, is therefore a key aspect in the creation, use and dissemination of an archive.


Traditional English carnivals tend to showcase creative pageantry, innovative costuming and raising money for charity, the Brazilian style focus on Samba drumming, religion, costumes and floats and the Caribbean style put emphasis on design and creating bacchanalian atmosphere. Despite their different focuses, they all have similar aims, make use of the city streets as canvases involving not only the community but businesses and educational institutions. Carnival has the power to make audacious statements about social issues as well as transform the hearts of participants and audiences alike. As a cultural and artistic artform, it is ever changing and progressing in its cultural expressions and yet scholars and artists struggle to properly archive or record it and its contribution to traditional and contemporary arts around the world. In this presentation I will explore the role this artform plays in society, its nature and politics and what makes it difficult to archive it properly despite operating in the digital age. I will then discuss my own contribution and efforts to assist the sector in developing and preserving Carnival arts and heritage.

This presentation starts from the reality of the small-scale archive "Unfinished Histories" grounded in/ by its own practice, examining how, as in the model of grounded theory, direction, methodology and concepts to be addressed arise out of the practice as it develops and out of the uses made of it. Unfinished Histories is anchored in my history as a feminist, dramaturg, activist and maverick academic with an archival imperative and that of my colleague Jessica Higgs, which inform the assumptions we brought to the work, some of them specifically articulated at the time, others implicit or visible at a distance of years and how they have developed. The Grounded Archive also because it has been very much about work on the ground – through events, exhibitions, talks, encounters with audiences / users, making material available/useful and grounded also because it works with the archived i.e. the individuals and companies archived (we call them the Originators) to create the digital archive. As an outreach project it proactively goes out to them to gather archive content physically, informationally and digitally. Its activism is about affect on both the archived Originators (validation, revaluing) and that sought on users/ potential users/visitors (inspiration, empowerment, change).

Robert Harland, Loughborough University, Four As in archive: access, artefact, activism, affect

Waste pickers in São Paulo, Brazil use artefacts as symbolic resources in the formation and articulation of their individual and collective identity. At the COOPAMARE (Cooperative of Autonomous Paper, Cardboard, Scraps and Reusable Materials Collectors) urban graphic objects contribute to their space and place of practice within an informal urban design enclave. This paper – call it a foray into a world where archives and art are alien, but activism not – will introduce and explain how access, artefact, activism and affect are linked in the struggle for esteem and identity in the city's urban poor. It will show how waste pickers are defined by the symbolic resources they adopt and adapt to provide dignity in the face of hostility from their local more affluent neighbours. As citizens with little access to institutional resources, and in a context of social diversity, the question we might ask is who archives their 'artefacts' in plight as 'members' of society doing our dirty work.
Presentation to be found here.


Ethnographic museums hold a multitude of objects and texts that all too often remain packed away in their storage areas and archives, inaccessible and unknown to the general public. How might some of these artifacts and documents be retrieved and engaged with, to invite alternative interpretations of their contemporary significance? This paper returns to the strategies and practices of bricolage (Levi Strauss 1962) in order to explore possibilities for working critically and creatively with an ethnographic collection of artifacts and their accompanying explanatory texts. Additionally revisiting the largely forgotten impacts and legacies of the French surrealists from the 1930s upon the discipline of anthropology, I will discuss a current artistic-anthropological collaboration that utilizes methods of collage and the ‘cut-up’ to create a new and experimental archive of material objects, images, and narratives. Presentation can be found here.

Etienne’s practice is curious as he is both a formally trained archivist and an artist. As an archivist, he has worked with a range of larger institutions and smaller independent organisations to ensure the preservation and dissemination of their archival collections. As an artist, his practice involves the use of music to explore the past/present continuum of the constituencies with whom he collaborates. These two disciplines - art and archives - are united in his current research project which interrogates the concept of the ‘living archive’. Though deployed in a number of different ways, the notion of the living archive always challenges Mbembe's metaphor of the archive as sepulchre; creating space for the archived trace to 'stir up disorder in the present' (Mbembe, 2002). This intervention explores 'living' approaches to the archive and the affective potentials generated when the conceptual lines between past and present are intentionally dissolved. Pictures can be found here.

4.30-5.30 Activations – group-led activity / discussion. Witnessed for final session feedback and discussion

In this activation/workshop we invite the participants to “play the space” using resonance as an experimental site-specific method. How and with what means are we able to respond to architecture and to (public) space? In terms of response-ability we try out and explore relations in a dialogue between bodies and space. Resonance occurs in time as the immaterial, continuous and elusive expressions of life; in movements and rhythms of social content and meaning. This on-going communication between the audible/visible, past/present, fiction/facts, matter/ language, respond to, express and influence our common social ground and activate memory and associations. The workshop builds on research and activations conducted at the University of Gothenburg within Critical Heritage Studies, wherein we collectively approached excluded urban art history through a set of creative time-based corporeal site-specific processes of walking, resonance, re-activations and re-actions, along with studies of archival material. By walking in the steps of Rubicon, a pioneering independent dance group inaugurated in 1978 we collectively returned to some of the places where the group performed.

About the activation: The activation during the symposium staged an urban public situation connected to the UCL-site. As a preparation we listened, walked with open senses, and using our voices for exploring some of the passages on the site. With our voices and other expressions we thus re-activated the historical market from the musical piece Cries of London produced by Orlando Gibbons 1620 and the contemporary/future market as described in the policy document: UCL 2034. A new 20-year strategy for UCL( The activation staged the transformation of the ‘market’ from materiel products to fulfil daily needs into abstract products of ‘knowledge’ for the future and its yet unknown reasons. Link to video documentation from the activation. Credits: Direction and idea: Alda Terracciano. Photo and editing: Natalia Kouneli. Photo: Linda Sternö.


The relationship between live art and its documentation has been highly problematised in performance theory over the last 50 years. The focus of this critical debates has often centred on the dichotomy between: the ephemerality of performance, and, the ontological challenge archiving poses to experiencing the action of performance within the original temporal and spatial framework of an artwork. However, what happens when we appropriate methodologies for archiving performances as a score for the performance itself? How does this approach affect the immediacy of the performance and the ongoing embodiment of its legacy? Activating Archives will begin to answer these questions by expounding upon my practice-led research project Instability in Stability, which explored how strategies for the construction, use and dissemination of archives can be activated as a live artwork and digitally‐mediated performance. This presentation will examine the project’s impact on how audiences may perceive, interpret and generate knowledge about the artist’s artwork and identity and investigate how the intricate interrelationships that formed between artist and archive; archive and audience; and audience, artist and archival document can offer a potential framework for organising archives in manner that tangibly embodies the corporeal and provides points of access for future users to continually reactivate fragments of the original temporal/spatial dynamics of the artwork into new interpretations and representations of its bodies, sites, stratagems, histories, identities and memories. Link to pdf with slides/PowerPoint here.

Symposium programme & abstracts
Friday 4th September

Points for discussion: Facing incompleteness. Here the relationship between the incomplete body of an archive and the virtual recreations of its body is explored in terms of interpretation, remembering, and making sense. The intrinsic dynamics of creating and using archives are addressed here. Archives are embodiment of actions, which in the first place create objects, writings, drawings, etc. At the same time archives perform actions themselves through recordings, scanning, etc. creating other forms of embodiment, new line of actions. The task of the scena setter is to respond to the intrinsic form of activism implied in archives, in terms of action produced by a body and then recreated through bodies in action.

9.30-10.10 Invited scena setter – Ghislaine Boddington, body>data>space Short break

10.15-11.45 Prepared papers / interventions (10ms plus full discussion of papers & scena setting theme)

This paper/intervention takes its starting point in The Event Series, an art project exploring the potential for site-specific performative art in gentrified urban city centres. It is concerned with questions of access and power-relations in the public space, exploring the relation between the geographical and architectural site and the presence/absence of bodies, actions and voices. The Event Series aims at working with existing situations, yet providing events in which we gain a new, refreshed comprehension of our situation of being in the world together with others. Exploring the artistic practice I use, I will in this paper outline strategies for moving between being affected and transforming that experience into action and compositions. I use a choreographic practice, which I define as an embodied labour of attentiveness, a visceral somatic listening to the affective impact of the site. It involves perceiving the site as an archive of events that are acted out as a repertoire. Composing the works is to create interplay of the visual, verbal and haptic qualities, and to choreograph actions, situations and energies. I’m interested in the affective impact of the works, and the capacity of each bodymind to shift its affection (i.e. being affected) into action. Link to PDF with images here.

The session presents one finishing and one starting project attempting to provide new ways of understanding old materials:
1. Cecilia Lindhé, Curating Mary Digitally: Representations of Medieval Material Culture in Installations and Online Archives
The talk will explore some digital interactive installations and an archive of medieval materiality that have been developed as a part of the research project Imitatio Mariae – Virgin Mary as Virtuous Model in Medieval Sweden. The project has collected about five thousand photographs and video-recordings from around sixty medieval Swedish churches. In order to put the images of the Madonna sculptures in a context of the multisensous and performative medieval church space, we have developed prototypes for a site-specific digital installation (using high resolution screens, sensors, directional sound and light). The ambition is to create an interface that is structured by categories that emerge from medieval rhetoric and its emphasis on performance, persuasion and space. The conceptual and theoretical framework of the installations and archive are based on ancient and medieval rhetoric, especially the concepts memoria, ductus and ekphrasis/enargeia. The aim of the installations and the archive is not only to orchestrate the Swedish medieval church as a multimodal and performative space, but furthermore to initiate a discussion on the format of the archive as such, and also to critically visualize the Virgin Mary’s journey from cult object to art object.

2. Mats Malm, Conjuring up the Artist from the Archives: Ivar Arosenius
Over-all presentation of the project which asks 1: how can our understanding of an artist be deepened and developed through digital materials and methods? 2: How can we, from this stand-point, analyze previous practices of conjuring up, modifying and creating artists and works of art in museum exhibitions, publications and studies? What ideological and practical considerations and presuppositions have governed the presentations that have formed the artist for the public consideration?

3. Jonathan Westin & Alexandra Herlitz (presented by Jonathan Westin), Assembling Arosenius: staging a digital archive
To digitise is to disassociate a material from its physicality, an ocularcentric act where multisensory qualities are translated into a purely visual form without depth. However, this disassociation allows for a mobility that makes the material reach beyond artificial contexts such as collections and archives and provoke new associations. This project, Arosenius 4-ever, aims to investigate how material from the newly digitised archive of artist Ivar Arosenius can be activated as a narrative device to trace the relation between artist and subject. While the digital archive is without material depth, it allows us to stage a meeting where the object of the artist’s gaze is given voice, and the distance between them is renegotiated. As such, the art and archive of Arosenius are being repositioned as equal residues of a meeting, their association a hybrid that has the potential to give body to tensions and affect to relations. Presentation can be found here.

The Arts Archives Consultancy (Judy Vaknin & Victoria Lane) has been working with the artist and activist Barbara Steveni (initiator and founder member of the Artist Placement Group, APG). In Steveni's performance work 'I AM AN ARCHIVE' (2002-) she activates the key moments in the history of APG. Initially, Judy and Victoria’s work was to organise and list Steveni’s personal papers, but the process has produced conversation-based interventions, which have proposed other possible contextual layers to archiving. Alongside Steveni, her assistant Melinda Bronstein has also been involved with the discursive aspect of the archive, and in developing its new direction. This has resulted in filming our discussions, cataloguing the work in Steveni's house, where the archive is based. This paper will focus on the importance of Steveni’s writings in her archive as an embodiment of action, thought and memory with some excerpts from the films. [Link to pdf, to be confirmed]

12.10-1.00 Activations – group-led activity / discussion. Witnessed for final session feedback and discussion

As part of her artistic practice, Barby has explored archival material in the broadest sense from ethnographic photographs, popular ephemera, movement and embodied texts and recording stories. Drawing on the experience of her artistic research Barby will lead participants through dialogic exercises to actively explore the effects and possibilities of the unheard and the missing. There will be particular emphasis on reframing and embodying story through re-enactment and how the use of this strategy may provide a possibility to further these discussions and open doors to challenging conversations. How can these spaces offer creative opportunities to interject, intervene and disrupt dominant narratives and histories? Can the act of collecting, proposing or activating material for archive generate conversations and actions that go beyond the limit of the material? How can the archive/ creation of/ collecting of archive make sense of contemporary conditions with regard to the visibility or invisibility of people of colour in the political, social and cultural experience of so called multicultural communities?

A video from Barby Asantes workshop can be found here. Credits: Direction and idea: Alda Terracciano. Photo and editing: Natalia Kouneli. Photo: Linda Sternö.

Points for discussion: Elicitation of narratives through archives. Here the task is to elucidate the power of witnessing events, and how these can be imported within a performative context. The experience of an event can have a strong impact on witnesses, audience etc., so how do we recompose a performance through a multiplicity of voices? When it comes to archives of performance, what kind of methodology can be applied? How do we reconcile different narratives to shed light on past events? 

2.00-2.45 Invited scena setter – Liz Stanley, University of Edinburgh, UK, Troubles in archives: misleading assemblages, awkward activisms and trickster traces

This presentation addresses the scena-setting task in two linked ways. Firstly, it relates the scena theme of narrative to the overall symposium focus on archives, art and activism. And secondly, it supports the group of shorter papers following it by exploring fault-lines within narrative inquiry and how these play out in relation to the archival turn. These fault-lines cohere around the artfulness of researcher assemblages, the provocations of some archival activisms, and the ontologically complicated character of archival traces.

The ‘Preface’ provides introductory comments on researcher positionality, the broad powerful and extremely influential ideas associated with the narrative turn, and some unresolved issues at the heart of narrative inquiry. Three aspects of the latter are then explored in more detail in the rest of the paper in relation to archives, art and activism.

‘Misleading assemblages’ explores researcher stories told about archives, using the Olive Schreiner Letters Online as a digital meta-archive and rejecting the idea of digital archives as totalising compendia. It does so in particular regarding to readers and users and ideas about construction, assemblage and accountability.

‘Awkward activisms’ is concerned with re/making archives from beneath, outside, beyond. It makes the point that such activism comes in many shades and there are often uncomfortable histories and heritages of collections and archives that need to be reckoned with.

‘Trickster traces’ points out the ‘by nature’ fragmentary and partial character of archival traces. This is in part because the traces always lack the context of the people, times, places and events that gave these their past meanings, and in part because what remains may be alien to present-time understandings and so tricky to comprehend.

A full version of the presentation can be accessed at
Link to pdf with slides/PowerPoint here.

2.45-4.15 Prepared papers / interventions (10ms plus full discussion of papers & scene setting theme)

Archives hold the stories that underwrite and lend authority to the cultural and political practices of social groups, and as such, they are at the heart of contestations between completing visions of society and democracy. Activist archives are particularly rich sites in which to understand cultural and political narratives, and to question their effects. These archives document challenges to dominant narratives and contain the source material for counter-hegemonic narratives. They also provide a meeting space for social actors to construct and mobilize narratives within political struggles. Using the example of activist archives formed through and for anti-gentrification campaigns in London and Vancouver, I will discuss the role archives play in the production of political narratives. I will suggest that narratives are key in the formation of counter-publics, which have the potential to revitalize democratic participation.  

As an activist whose primary interest in archiving grew out of a desire for a continued political dialogue with different audiences, I will reflect upon my experience of providing a 21st century frame of reference to an online exhibition/archive of transatlantic slavery, Trading Faces - Recollecting Slavery. Which narratives get privileged not just in the encounter between the mainstream and its margins but when conflicting narratives arise on the margins? My research on modern-day slavery met resistance from black communities who felt that it diminished their own history. Paradoxically, refusing to see the continuum with modern day slavery allows us to put it safely in the past and to make our peace with it. To argue that modern day capitalism continues to benefit from it is to raid history for political lessons to change contemporary realities (Rahila Gupta)

As originator and curator of the Trading Faces online exhibition, I will briefly discuss the experience of researching the heritage of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in British performing arts, focussing on the dialogic approach adopted for the curatorial practice, and more specifically the cross-cultural and inter-generational consultation process adopted during the selection of archival documents and audio-visual material for digitisation and public engagement. Aspects of the design of the online portal will be discussed with reference to the African practice of ‘Orature’ - which implies a circularity of knowledge and a creative exchange between performers and members of the audience – as an attempt to re-create a ‘total artistic act’ of cultural resistance. (Alda Terracciano)

We will explore the creative expression of identity embedded in the archive of mental health recovery stories and offer our perspectives on the relationship between archives and art and the potential within creative archival spaces for personal and collective activism and empowerment.

The creation of the Moravian archive in Herrnhut, Sachsen, in 1764 was indeed a forward-looking and crafty act. As the Moravian church was global, individualistic and anti-hierarchical (in a vertical sense) the organization was based on personal relationships and correspondence between the leaders in Herrnhut and the diaspora-workers and missionaries. When the charismatic leader and founder of the Moravian church, Nicholas Zinsendorf, died in 1760 it as obvious that the organisation needed a more systematic structure due to avoiding future disintegration. One of the most important solution for this challenge was to create a central archive in Herrnhut. The most important task for this archive was to collect all the memoirs (lebenslauf) that were written by of the members. The idea was simply to file the individual life-experiences of every Moravians.

Since the establishment of the Moravian archive at Herrnhut, 250 years ago, there has been collected tenths of thousands of memoirs. These “lebenslaufs” are not “dead” material, on the contrary, it is still used and red as edification for other members and followers. In the archive at Herrnhut the bulk of the records consists of individual memoirs of “ordinary” peoples’ life-experiences. And that is memoirs that still are in “use”. The aim of the presentation is firstly to discuss how the archive in Herrnhut, and later the archive in Bettleheim (Penn), actually saved the Moravian church from dissolution and secondly analyse the actual function and content of the Moravian memoirs. Particularly interesting is that the memoirs at the same time as they created emotions it was, at the same time, controlled and calmed. The writing and reading of the memoirs created a sort of calm passion among the Moravians that had a profound impact on later movements as Methodism, Swedenborgianism etc. Also you, perhaps, can argue for that the moravian memoirs became an important source for the creation of modern literature. As an historical source in has many interesting aspects and use, one is the memoirs give an interface that few or no other sources can give. In one way they look with a modern eye on the world.

In 1978 the Swedish author and activist Sven Lindqvist published Gräv där du står (Dig Where You Stand (DWYS)). Inspired by the understanding that ‘History is dangerous. History is important because the results of history are still with us’, Lindqvist’s book was a detailed manual to Do-It-Yourself historical research aimed at workers because ‘Factory History could and should be written from a fresh point of view – by workers investigating their own workplaces’. Lindqvist’s writing and talks resulted in many DWYS groups and initiatives being set up in Sweden, Germany and the UK. Taking Lindqvist’s work as an inspiration and a model this paper will briefly outline the history and principles of the DWYS movement, the significance of participatory history-making and archiving; and most importantly will describe the researchers ongoing collaborative work towards producing a critical re-imagined Dig Where You Stand approach, grounded in the interstices and contact zones between creative, artistic, activist and academic approaches to digital archiving, public history and knowledge-production. Link to pdf with slides/PowerPoint here.

4.30-5.30 Activations – group-led activity / discussion. Witnessed for final session feedback and discussion

Jason E. Bowman will examine his 2010 project Untitled (on a day unknown), commissioned by the Whitworth Art Gallery. Bowman worked with Out in the City, a group of LGBTQ senior citizen, to exhume then re-iterate a court case of a group of 29 men tried for homosexual crimes in 1936 in a small English town. From multiple archival resources - newspaper reports, criminal and court records etc. – the trial, its mediation within popular press and its meanings within a culture of inter-war years surveillance were re-traced. Via a performative reiteration of the trial, held in private, a series of pinhole photographs and a suite of drawings, conducted from memory by an official court artist were produced then co-exhibited. Jason will discuss the relations between the psychoanalytic culture of shame, the performativity of the legal body, and of scavenging amidst a historiography of surveillance as a method to ingeminate the queered archive as a site of trauma, violence and inspection. Link to pdf with slides/PowerPoint here.

We will explore the distinctions between narratives focussing on pathologising systems and narratives focussed on experience, by asking participants to create and/or read placards to questions from each of those differing positions. We will then ask: Can story become protest to pathology? Can you create archives without pathologising? What are the issues that arise? Can art provide narrative too painful for words? There will be some pre-prepared placards to prompt discussion as well as blank ones so people don't have to share personal experience.  

Symposium programme & abstracts
Saturday 5th September

9.30am-1pm - 4th session Feedback & reflections

9.30-12.00 Walk & presentations (60 minutes) plus 30 minutes feedback on each session (commentators/witnesses report, activation reflections & discussion) 

Commentators/witnesses report, activation reflections & discussion

Suriashi is one of the foundations for how the dancer/actor position him/herself on stage, and in the studio in traditional Japanese theatre and dance. It is a walk that reminds us of its historical background, its mythological origin, and last but not least: its utopian potential. How can a body house knowledge from people who have passed away? I argue that suriashi is an example of a physically repeatable construction, holding transmittable "presence" from the past. In the studio, suriashi operates in an efficacious, orienting and regular manner, but when practiced on the streets in the city, it disturbs both the habitual and the place memory - how and where we are in the world. I call my experiments with this walk Suriashi Clinic. The Suriashi Clinic is a metaphor for how a composed walk can house people inside its physical structure, and how this clinic can move out to the streets in order to comment and affect public and social space. The Suriashi Clinic will offer shelter for its clients to rejects sight as the single magic key, and instead observe and respond in the flesh. For the Archives, Art and Activism symposium I invite the participants to walk in suriashi outside 46 Gordon Square where Virginia Woolf once stayed with her sister Vanessa. This was also a meeting place for the Bloomsbury Group. [Link to paper presentation pdf, and images pdf.]

As a film maker it is very common to be asked to document different events. Very often the documented material is never asked for again, it just lays around on huge abandoned hard drive grave yards. Therefore it is very rewarding being a film maker in a project where the documented material is treated as something important, something that takes the thinking process and analysis forward. That has been the case in a research project about Rubicon, a dance group active in Gothenburg during the 1980's. In the beginning of the project the question around documentation was: "If somebody wants to walk in our footsteps in 50 even 100 years from now; what material (if any) would we want this somebody to have access to from our working process"? The questions circled around an imagined archive and how to constitute and archive on our own work. Through the project the questions around documentation have deepened and widened and landed in an activist view on documentation experimenting with the questions: "who is taking/making the images, how, when and why, and how, when, why and to whom do we present the documented material"? The theoretic inspiration comes from the choreographer Efva Lilja’s view on dance as an activist method. Lilja claims that it is necessary to break the horizontal perspective in order for something good to happen, and that is also an ambition of this project. But what happens if the film maker gives up the vertical perspective in the middle of a documentation process? During this project film making, documenting with a camera, editing and presenting the material has come through as a way of thinking through practice. The filmed documentation; both the filming and the work with the filmed material becomes a part of the analysis work in the project as a whole. Link to pdf/PowerPoint here. To be confirmed.

Image credit: Lucy Lyons, see her work online on