Documentation The Archive

Annelies Jahn, Collected Objects, ‘Nang’ Series, 2014-2019

As part of my art practice, I look to my immediate surroundings to gather objects and information as I walk in my daily routine. My natural inclination to collect intersects with my intention to primarily make work with things that I find. To make work of and from the world.

Often these found objects become the material in which to explore a specific site or space, as a way of articulating it’s peculiarities and perhaps our habitation of it.

These found or discarded objects, become my art materials. They are “recycled’ for use in making multiple artworks, sometimes as repetitive units or as assemblages.

Annelies Jahn

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Lee Lozano

In the early 1960s the American artist Lee Lozano executed a series of drawings of everyday tools. She drew crow bars, hammers, wrenches and vices in tightly-framed compositions where the tools take on a monumental aspect, even though the drawings, executed in a combination of pencil and conte crayon, are modest in size. 

These drawings led to a group of large oil paintings. The slightly distorted forms in the drawings – a bulkiness in the proportions of the tools – is exaggerated even further in the paintings, where the tools flex and buckle as if animated by their own actions of banging, screwing and pressing. The series was interpreted by critics as having a socio-political significance, as a female artist used a masculine subject in a parody of phallocentrism.  

Seen together the drawings have the feeling of an inventory, and a group of them have stayed together in the collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Yet Lozano did not refer to this series as an archive. Perhaps the sense of documentation is incidental, and the artist was more motivated to allow each object to undergo a transformation through drawing and painting. Lozano’s tools take on almost human characteristics of fleshiness and mobility. 

Brief bio of Lee Lozano:

This link offers many images of Lee Lozano’s Tools:

This link is to an exhibition walk-through of  Lee Lozano: Tools at Hauser and Wirth Gallery, New York, 2011.  

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Wayne Thiebaud and Lisa Milroy

Wayne Thiebaud (born USA,1920) and Lisa Milroy (born Canada, 1959) are two artists who have, independently of each other, created drawings and paintings of large collections of objects organised into patterns. Whilst neither is an archivist per se, they bring to still life painting an archivist’s eye for the variety to be found within a particular class of object.

Common to both artists is the adoption of a hovering vantage point, looking down or across at rows or grids of objects, strongly lit on a plain (often white) background.

Thiebaud’s chosen subjects were the bright, mass-produced consumer goods of late twentieth century America, such as shoes, sunglasses and fast food. He worked across a range of disciplines including drawing (pencil, ink or pastel), printmaking (etching and lithography) and oil painting. Sometimes seen as part of the Pop Art movement, a wider examination of his work reveals him to be a traditional painter with a contemporary sensibility, attracted to subjects across the genres of figure painting, landscape and still life. Occasionally his objects will be depicted on shelves or behind glass, as they would be seen in a shop, but within a non-specific location.

:Shoe Rows.jpg
Wayne Thiebaud, Shoe rows, 1979–1979, Etching and Aquatint, 41.3 x 60.5 cm

An interview with Wayne Thiebaud

Milroy is drawn to similar subjects, with a particular emphasis on shoes, but her playful disruption of the grid creates a different sense of visual rhythm to Thiebaud’s more regular arrangements. Her compositions might at first appear to be abstractions, as the strength of the visual pattern overrides the identity of the depicted subject. In recent years she has developed other approaches to the representation of common objects. 

Lisa Milroy, Shoes, 1985, oil on canvas, 174 x 226cm. Read more about this work.

Visit Lisa Milroy’s website for more of her work with shoes.

An interview with Lisa Milroy

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Suzanne Archer

Bird’s nests, snake skins, bones and dehydrated animals such as birds, rats and lizards have found their way into Suzanne Archer’s Wederburn studio. This archive of things that are the remnants of once living creatures, has formed the bases of many large scale drawings. Working with a degree of direct observation, these drawings are exploratory and adventurous. 

You can see her talking about this practice here

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Giorgio Morandi

Giorgio Morandi had collections of bottles, jugs and vases that he constantly selected from to make arrangements for his still-life drawings and paintings. He probably never thought of this process as ‘archiving’, but each time he makes a still-life arrangement and records it in a drawing or painting, he is categorising them in his own way.

Giorgio Morandi with part of his collection
Morandi’s studio
The Archive

Luke Thurgate: The Burra Archive

Luke Thurgate spent ten days in residence at the Burra Regional Art Gallery developing a community authored archive of objects which formed the basis for a live wall drawing project. He used the idea of a collective archive to make social connections with the community of this small regional South Australian town. Locals were invited to lend personally significant domestic objects which formed the subject matter of the work. Thurgate set four simple rules for the project:

  • Every person who left an object had a conversation with the artist
  • Every object got a label with information relating to what it was, who it belonged to, where it came from and why it meant something
  • Every object had to be incorporated into the drawing
  • The placement/juxtaposition of objects within the drawing should resist the imposition of secondary narrative connections.
A time-lapse of Luke Thurgate working on his wall drawing

In the end, 85 objects were left at the gallery and were used to make a drawing spanning 27 metres of wall. The drawing was made live in the space and became a way of acknowledging the intersecting memories, stories and identity of the Burra community.

The Burra Archive (installation view), 2018
Artist interviews The Archive

Rachel Whiteread

Rachel Whiteread likens her collecting of objects to drawings. She also makes drawings on paper from the objects. Her method of finding and collecting objects and extending them into new strands of her art practice is similar to the way drawing on paper can be the initial exploration of an ‘idea’.  In this video Rachel Whiteread talks about her collection of objects.

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Fiona Hall

Fiona Hall is an artist who uses archiving conventions in her work. Museological display is normally used to show archives of historical objects, but Fiona Hall often employs it to show collections of her own works. This mixing of the of conventions of museum and art display echoes the hybrid nature of artworks she shows in them. For example, Cell Culture, 2002, (image above) is a collection of animals and plants she constructed out of clear glass beads and white Tupperware containers, all housed within a large museological display case.

Fiona Hall, Sappers and Shrapnel, 2016-17, installation view.

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Daniel Spoerri and Fluxus

To archive is sometimes to translate something into another form:

Daniel Spoerri archived a moment in time in 1962 by tracing the location of objects as they were sitting on a table at a particular moment. He also described each of the objects in words, cross-referencing them as he went, then published the map and text as a small book. The actual objects and the table seem to have disappeared into the past just like the moment he archived.

Spoerri was part of the Fluxus movement of the 1960s, that inherited an interest in chance from movements such as Surrealism and Dada earlier in the century.

Fluxus—a name taken from a Latin word meaning “flow, flux” (noun); “flowing, fluid” (adj.) (Wiktionary)—is an international network of artists, composers and designers noted for blending different artistic media and disciplines in the 1960s. Read More

Daniel Spoerri, detail of Anecdoted Topography of Chance, 1962

In connection with a one man show of his snare-pictures at the Galerie Lawrence in Paris in 1962, Spoerri wrote his Topographie Anécdotée* du Hasard (Anecdoted Topography of Chance). Spoerri was then living at the Hotel Carcassone in Paris, in room number 13 on the fifth floor. To the right of the entrance door was a table which his wife Vera had painted blue. Spoerri drew on a ‘map” the overlapping outlines of all the 80 objects that were lying on the table on 17 October 1961 at exactly 3:47 p.m. Each object was assigned a number and Spoerri wrote a brief description of each object and the memories or associations it evoked. The descriptions cross referenced other objects on the table which were related. The Topographie Anécdotée* du Hasard was printed as a small pamphlet of 53 pages plus a fold out map and index and was distributed as an advertisement for the exhibit. The Topographie Anécdotée* du Hasard is more than just a catalog of random objects, however; read in its entirety, it provides a coherent and compelling picture of Spoerri’s travels, friends and artistic endeavors. Read More

The Archive

Christian Boltanski Reserve-Detective III

Reserve-Detective III (1987) consists of wooden shelves with cardboard boxes, black-and-white photographs of faces taped on them. The images show perpetrators and victims of violent crime, but Mr. Boltanski deliberately does not label or organize the images that way, depriving us of knowing whether any individual is a criminal or a victim.

– Sewell Chan

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Janet Laurence The Matter of the Masters

Janet Laurence’s The matter of the masters is inspired by conservation research and analysis undertaken on Dutch old master paintings in the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands, especially works by Rembrandt.

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Tony Albert Sorry

“In Tony Albert’s conceptually driven practice, he often re-appropriates and recycles items of vintage kitsch that feature Aboriginal images or imagery: objects the artist calls ‘Aboriginalia’.”

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Sean O’Connell suburban spirits

For his exhibition suburban spirits in 2017 Sean O’Connell worked with objects that were highly significant to his deceased grandparents. His careful selection of these objects, the representations that he made of them, and the way that they were ordered in both the exhibition and the catalogue, gave these objects their archival quality.

The Archive

Song Dong: Waste Not

The careful categorisation, organisation and spatial arrangement of the objects hoarded by his mother turn these everyday items into an impressive archive that reflects the social and cultural issues alluded to here:

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Sue Breakell: Negotiating the Archive

“Archives are more prominent than ever, not only in art practice and theoretical discourse but also in popular culture. An archive is now understood to mean anything that is no longer current but that has been retained. This paper considers how archival practice can be integrated further within current discourses of art history, theory and practice, at a time when the concept of the archive is at both more widely known and less fixed in its meaning.” Continue reading Sue Breakell’s reflections on  negotiating the archive in this piece published on the Tate website.

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Susan Hiller: Working in the Freud Museum

In this her text ‘Working Through Objects’ from 1994 Susan Hiller reflects on working with archival objects From the Freud Museum.