Notes from Archive(r) at the Royal College of Art

30 September, 2019


The cen­tral Artefact of [Bertillion’s] archive is the fil­ing cab­i­net, not the pho­to­graph.

Archive as a body of lit­er­a­ture in­de­pen­dent of the ob­jects in­side it. All the de­scrip­tions, ti­tles (written by archivists, not artists), but also cat­e­gories, ac­cess sta­tus, ref­er­ence num­bers and so on.

Tate Archive con­tains dif­fer­ent col­lec­tions:

Microfilm Lasts Half a Millennium in the Atlantic

The search func­tion has boolean logic: Heading must con­tain (term A AND term B) or (term C). Archive arith­metic.

There is a big long list of un­cat­a­logued items. Must be hun­dreds, of not thou­sands of boxes. http://​​TateArchive­Un­cat­Col­l­List.pdf

Things are or­gan­ised on dif­fer­ent lev­els:

Found some kind of test item here.

A search for test’ gives a few more of these. There does­n’t seem to be a way to link to a search re­sults page.

The web­site runs on some­thing called DServe, which seems dis­con­tin­ued. Used to be made by Axiell.

They sell all kinds of stuff for li­braries and mu­se­ums, in­clud­ing things like post-it notes.


The pho­to­graphic col­lec­tion (TGA) has im­ages of all kinds of ex­hi­bi­tions, in­clud­ing ran­dom peo­ple’s pri­vate col­lec­tions. http://​​tgapho­tolists/​TGAPHO­TO7Pri­vate­And­Cor­po­rate­Col­lec­tions.pdf

Some doc­u­men­ta­tion on the digi­ti­sa­tion process: https://​​art/​archive/​archives-ac­cess-toolkit

Empty pages: Stuff that gets archived kind of by ac­ci­dent. Things be­tween the his­tor­i­cally im­por­tant stuff.

Francis Bacon draw­ing that’s al­most noth­ing. https://​​art/​archive/​items/​tga-9810-4/​ba­con-in­com­plete-let­ter-with-drawn-lines

People wrote so many let­ters back in the day — are we keep­ing artists’ emails now?

Looks like things are kept in thr arrange­ment in which they’re ac­quired (Collections). So, for in­stance, TGA 871 has some stuff from JMW Turner’s stu­dio, but also let­ters from the 1960s and some­one’s MA dis­ser­ta­tion. Even when a col­lec­tion comes di­rectly from an artist, it of­ten con­tains ephemera, let­ters from other peo­ple, re­pro­duc­tions of work, news­pa­per clip­pings and such. A col­lec­tion of col­lec­tions of col­lec­tions.

[see also Manovich re: re-ar­rang­ing of pre-ex­ist­ing cul­tural ma­te­r­ial]

TGA 8421-1-6-6_10 TGA 8421-1-6-6_10

Blank Pages

The im­ages have ti­tles and other meta in­for­ma­tion in the EXIF fields. Digital im­age: more than just a vi­sual record, has meta­data baked right into it.

Who picks the fea­tured im­ages? I guess some of the goal here is to gen­er­ate en­gage­ment (that’s also what the process writ­ing talks about).

Archive items are tied in / cross-ref­er­enced with other Tate data struc­tures: Artists, fin­ished works (which ap­pear to live in a sep­a­rate data­base, in­ter­est­ing where the dis­tinctino lies there), Features” (which are ar­ti­cles), and re­lated artists (chosen by who knows what al­go­rithm), tags.

Some things have lost all their con­text:

Everything has dif­fer­ent li­cens­ing at­tached to it. Every item wound up in count­less sys­tems, pa­per trails

2 October, 2019

Records Continuum Records Continuum Model af­ter Upward.

9 October

Spent an hour pho­tograph­ing shelves in the store — about 800 im­ages in to­tal, some us­able.

Archive Shelf

10 October

Borges (1993): The Analytical Language of John Wilkins:

These am­bi­gu­i­ties, re­dun­dan­cies and de­fi­cien­cies [in Wilkin’s con­structed lan­guage] re­mind us of those which doc­tor Franz Kuhn at­trib­utes to a cer­tain Chinese en­cy­clopae­dia en­ti­tled Celestial Empire of benev­o­lent Knowledge’. In its re­mote pages it is writ­ten that the an­i­mals are­di­vided into: (a) be­long­ing to the em­peror, (b) em­balmed, (c) tame,(d) suck­ing pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fab­u­lous, (g) stray dogs, (h)included in the pre­sent clas­si­fi­ca­tion, (i) fren­zied, (j) in­nu­mer­able,(k) drawn with a very fine camel­hair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) hav­ing just bro­ken the wa­ter pitcher, (n) that from a long way of­flook like flies.

Obviously this is­n’t real (because that’s what Borges does).

Foucault com­ments on the pas­sage at length in The Order of Things (1966) say­ing the rea­son this is so funny/​un­com­fort­able is that we can’t imag­ine a space in which all of these cat­e­gories can ex­ist at the same time — they have no shared cri­te­ria, rules of same­ness.

14 October

30 October

Fairly straight­for­ward to go through all the sec­ond-level en­tries in my dataset and out­put lists of fields like Access Conditions and Acquisition History. Visually, this starts to re­sem­ble works like Codenames (2001) by Paglen, 5.12 Citizen’s Investigation, and the list of mi­grants who died on their way to Europe.

List of access conditions List of ac­cess con­di­tions

List of extents Scraped cat­a­logue ren­dered as a long table. Note that not all data fields are rep­re­sented here.

The archive as a lay­er­ing of ta­bles (using Foucaults no­tion of that term). Tables within ta­bles within ta­bles.

November 16

Montford (2003): Twisty lit­tle pas­sages

Screenshot showing first iteration of IF work


Text ad­ven­tures are a tex­tual rep­re­sen­ta­tion of some imag­ined game world (not un­like the archive it­self).

The set­ting of an in­ter­ac­tive fic­tion work […] is more than a set­ting. It is a sim­u­lated world, which in prac­tice is rep­re­sented com­pu­ta­tion­ally in some sort of data struc­ture or col­lec­tion of ob­jects. It is this sim­u­lated world that dis­tin­guishes a work of in­ter­ac­tive fic­tion from a con­ver­sa­tional char­ac­ter or from an ex­pert sys­tem that em­ploys nat­ural lan­guage un­der­stand­ing. viii

The world model is typ­i­cally im­ple­mented in the in­ter­ac­tive fic­tion pro­gram as some type of graph [referring to the math­e­mat­i­cal model, which also aplies to the archive!] or tree struc­tures of some sort (eg record, ob­ject, list) with as­so­ci­ated pro­ce­dures, meth­ods, or func­tions (Graves 1987). ix

1: The plea­sure of the text ad­ven­ture

The per­son who reads and writes to in­ter­act is the operator” of an in­ter­ac­tive fic­tion in cy­ber­tex­tual ter­mi­nol­ogy (Aarseth 1997); in gen­eral com­put­ing terms, this per­son is the user”. So as to em­pha­size that the ac­tions of read­ing, writ­ing, play­ing, and fig­ur­ing out are all in­volved in such op­er­a­tion or use, the term interactor” is used in this book. 3