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Current time:0:00Total duration:6:55

Video transcript

Archives to me are really where memories are stored and history is made. Archives are about democracy. They’re repositories of knowledge. They’re spaces where we save items which relate to how things were done in the past and how things were done badly or how things were done really well. It can be anything, really. It can be medical equipment, it can be stuffed birds, it can be artworks and asteroids. It’s like ephemeral information, stuff that gives context to the main object, gives a bit of history, gives a bit of background. Material that is kind of gathered pertaining to a person or to a place or to an event or a kind of movement. It’s witness of tools and cultures, of people who lived before us in different ages and times, but an archive survives. I think the importance of archives is that it can take us much deeper into the story than reading a book based on some sort of secondary account of what happened. The Tate archive is the national archive of British fine art practice so we’re the world’s second largest art archive and we house 800 archive collections. So we have around one million documents. We’re digitising 52,000 items from the archives collection to make it much more widely available to not only the general public in the UK but globally and this is the way archives are moving, really. No longer does one have to necessarily visit an archive, although it can be important to do so as you can get a different sense and feel of items by doing that. It’s not just all paper based, you know, there are artworks in it, there are sketchbooks and photographs, there’s kind of primary material that could otherwise be seen as an artwork but there’s also scraps of…you know, there are paintbrushes and palettes and all sorts of stuff that just kind of gives a bit of history, gives a bit of context to the amazing collection of British art that Tate holds. The Tate’s archive is also full of all sorts of bric-a-brac and detritus. Francis Bacon’s luggage is in the Tate archive so it’s quite a peculiar collection of all sorts of interesting artefacts. Material is acquired in a number of ways. Normally an artist or a member of their family or their estate will contact myself or a member of my team in the archive. It’s amazing what artists use in order to jot down their ideas and think about what they’re going to create. I think an artist archive would probably have sketches of their ideas and other things. I think photos of them and other artists, and other people who are important in their lives. My first encounter of an archive was when my father died actually and he was a painter and he kept lots and lots of sketchbooks and he wrote this very funny story and just seeing his handwriting with illustrated drawings, which I’d not come across before, gave me a real insight into the kind of person he was in the 1940s. In 2008 I worked in the New Art Gallery Walsall with the Epstein archive. We came across a plastic bag which had really litter in it but we came across two dates from a calendar, they’re the dates that Epstein’s two children, Theo and Esther, died. They were the inspiration behind an exhibition that we made which was all about really the upsides but also the downsides of living with an artist who is so powerfully driven as Epstein was. I created a project called the South London Black Music Archive, so we turned Peckham platform into an open archive where people could bring and map their stories of black music in South London, so they would bring all kinds of things. I have somebody’s pass from a nightclub. We had lots of records because I also had a record player and all different kinds of music. So I wanted to be able to make sure that there were different ways in which people could access and contribute to that archive so one of those devices was to have this big map of South London which people could add to. People would send a text message with a story and we would add that to the map and to the place. Some of the values that I have seen through visiting various archives is being able to tell a quite marginal story, getting people to think about their role within those stories. The Tate archive is for anybody to come in and register and book in to see any of the materials that Tate holds, and those materials will be brought to the reading room where they can sit and go through them, those primary materials, at their leisure and explore.