Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Curating and Collecting Jocelyn Herbert

Tonight I attended the exhibition launch of the MA Curating and Collecting, UAL, 'Work from the Collections Number #3', which focused on Jocelyn Herbert's working relationship with Samuel Beckett.  The exhibition features material curated by each and every student on the course selected from the National Theatre's Jocelyn Herbert Archive.

The exhibition is at Wimbledon Space

The exhibition is a culmination of a term's work on the subject matter involving much original research by the students into the NT's Jocelyn Herbert Collection as well as into theatre design, Beckett and British theatre history in general.

Q&A session with Jenny West, David Gothard and Matthew McFrederick
Today's event opened with a Q&A session with three experts in Jocelyn Herbert and Samuel Beckett, chaired by one of the students on the course who had also acted as registrar and coordinated all of the archive loans (she must have had a very busy last month!).

Wimbledon Space

One of the things that I was really excited about seeing was how each of the students had used the archive material that they had found.  Coming from a vast variety of backgrounds and countries, each student approached the collection with different ideas and each has selected a different aspect of Jocelyn's work whether that be her drawings of trees, correspondence with politicians, her costume drawings or the spattering of her daily life that is portrayed throughout her work.  Some of the loans that were requested were so unusual that my team and I were at times baffled as to how the students could use them to meet the requirements of the course but it was fascinating this evening to see how and what they used to provide a commentary on Jocelyn's work with Beckett.

Costume drawings from Jocelyn Herbert's collection
The archive has also been very involved in offering mounting advice for many of the items, which are delicate and need to be carefully handled.  Where possible the students used facsimiles but there is a good number of originals throughout to offer authenticity.  The students also made excellent use of the digitised drawings, which they projected onto the wall so that the costumed figures were around life size.  This really brought the Collection to life and animated what could otherwise have been a dense pile of 2D sketches.

Another challenge was how to show a whole sketchbook in the exhibition.  One of the students filmed each page and the video is a very accessible alternative to displaying a sketchbook in what would have had to have been a static manner.

A sketchbook flicked through by page and page orientation changed when required
An extra bonus of this collection is that the students have produced 'The Work Book' to compliment their exhibition.  This work book contains essays on why the students have selected what they have along with images and catalogue references.  This will provide a valuable resource in coming years of the course to give an idea of how to approach what can be considered a large and potentially daunting archive collection.  It is also really useful for us as we are getting to know this collection and it will show the variety of ways in which this material can be accessed and interpreted for different audiences.  I am very grateful to the students and the course convenors for all of their hard work and I am very proud of this collaborative venture and look forward to continuing the relationship in the years to come.

The exhibition runs from the 25th March to the 10th April 2015 at Wimbledon Space and is open from 10am to 5pm each day.  The Jocelyn Herbert Collection is housed at the National Theatre Archive and the catalogue is online here http://catalogue.nationaltheatre.org.uk/CalmView/.  

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Archiving the Arts and me

On Tuesday of this week I attended the Archives and Society seminar dedicated to Archiving the Arts, a National Archives initiative to raise awareness of arts archives and encourage networking and knowledge sharing in the sector.  I had been asked to present on my own collections and discuss how the National Theatre values its Archive and what we are doing to promote its use.

I was presenting alongside representatives from the National Archives as well as the National Gallery and Rambert so I was in very good company!  There was an excellent turnout for a very small room at the Institute for Historical Research and it is the first time I have been at an archive event where people had to sit on the floor for want of space!

Senate House

To be perfectly honest, I have not been involved in the Archiving the Arts initiative so I was as interested as the next person to find out what TNA have discovered from their year focusing on arts archives and where the project will go next.  I think that the focus has been more on developing archives for those who have perhaps not realised the value of their collections or have needed support and advice in drawing the collections into a recognisable archive or gaining buy-in from senior management.  The National Theatre has had an archive since the early 1990s and it is well established, as is Rambert’s, which was founded in the 1980s.  We were, rather dauntingly, being held up as success stories.

IHR, apologies for not have any more interesting photos
I found it really interesting to listen to the ladies from TNA, Fleur, Louise and Kate, who all spoke on the importance of archiving the arts and really valuing our collections.  Arts archives are the cornerstone of our cultural history and provide researchers with a new way to view the creative process.  Arts archives are also perfect places for further creativity and, through research, creativity and exhibiting we can breathe new life into these archives and prove that they are not static: we can bring them to life and explore them afresh.  Sometimes I can get too bogged down in the nitty gritty of running an archive to consider the wider picture of what it is that we are preserving for future generations and why so this was a refreshing opportunity to take a step back.

An unrelated Gormley statue at the Wellcome,
excellent Forensics exhibition!

This evening really made me question the role of the Archive in the many National Theatre projects that have happened over my time here and are in the pipeline.  We are very fortunate that the National views its Archive as a living thing, and not as the end of the line or a production.  We help to paint the picture of a show from the very start of its existence right through to the end.  It is one of my aims in my still relatively new role to ensure that we plug any gaps we have in the documentation of creative practice to ensure that it is preserved.  This ties in with the current aim of the National, which is to open up the whole process of theatre, with its beginnings being laid bare to the public on the Sherling High-Level walkway to seeing a production on stage to being able to delve into the Archive front of house in the new Lyttelton Lounge, which will open in a matter of weeks. 

So, we are fortunate that the NT Archive is so well used but that is just testament to the amazing material that is held in it and the many, many directors, actors and creatives who have made history on our stages.