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Archives & Artists: Archives & Artists

Archives and Artists


Traditionally, an archive is a collection of documents or records that provide information. Beyond its basic description, an archive is how we have gone about saving and organizing histories, preserving our pasts, recording our presents, and bringing insights into the future. (

There are artists who explore both the appearance and the workings of archives through their art. In 2001, Jeremy Deller orchestrated the reenactment of the clashes between police and striking miners in Orgreave in 1984. The Battle of Orgreave Archive (An Injury to One is an Injury to All) is an installation comprising objects, videos and archival material related to the events being re-enacted and the research that grounded it. Deller made use of different types of archival records, including the memories of those that had been involved in the violent clashes. In this way the work questions the power of the archive, and who gets to write history.

© Jeremy Deller. Commissioned and produced by Artangel.                            © Yinka Shonibare. Co-commissioned by HOUSE 2014 and Brighton Festival. Courtesy the artist and                                                                                                                                 Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.

Other artists are creating archives as part of the artwork. These archives grow as the work is displayed. An example of this is Yinka Shonibare’s The British Library. This artwork is an installation of books covered in colourful ‘Dutch wax print’ fabric. The spines feature the names of first- or second-generation immigrants to Britain, who have made significant contributions to British culture and history. Each time the artwork is exhibited, visitors are invited to input their own experiences and stories of immigration into an accompanying website. Their responses are then archived and will provide a unique insight into changing perceptions and experiences of immigration over time.


Mimi Onuoha  The Library of Missing Datasets (2016)

The Library of Missing Datasets is a physical repository of those things that have been excluded in a society where so much is collected. "Missing data sets" are the blank spots that exist in spaces that are otherwise data-saturated. 


There also exists a form of artistic practice that speaks to the archive’s societal shift from passive guardian to active agent in holding collective memories. These works build on the power of the archive and create counter-narratives within these structures. We see this in the work of John Akomfrah and the Black Audio Film CollectiveSusan Hiller’s J Street Project and From the Freud Museum and Atlas Group’s My Neck is Thinner than a Hair: Engines. Other works, like Richard Bell’s Embassy, actively build an archive into the work each time it is activated. (

Below is a list of useful shelf numbers for books, pamphlets and catalogues in the library that will be useful for your assignments. The catalogue online is available for searching and reserving items.


027          Information Society

150          Psychology

302          Media

302          Fashion

709.04     Theory & History

770          Photography

802.02      Reference and Citation