Managing Collections – Week 6

This week marked a significant change in direction for our group project. This was instigated by a couple of key things. One factor was my conversation with Maya. She reiterated what Elaine, Andy, Kostas and others had indicated, that collaboration isn’t realistic or ethical for a short-term project. Whilst talking to Maya, I mentioned an idea that came out of my chat with Elaine – Elaine had suggested people would be more likely to contribute if their stories could ‘go down in history’, and we considered the idea of asking Maya if we could donate contributions to the AIU archive at the end of the project. Kostas didn’t think this would be possible, so I decided not to propose it to Maya. I did tell her about it however, whilst we were discussing the issue of long term benefit for contributors. She explained how the AIU Race Relations Centre are sometimes asked to write letters of recommendation for funding, and how they consider whether to grant this or not based on the level of community benefit. Maya further confirmed for me that collaboration wouldn’t be possible. I realised that even attempting it as just one element of our project would be incredibly time consuming and just as ambitious. I wonder if actually it would be even more ambitious to collaborate but not have it as a sole focus, I believe one would need to dedicate all energy and time to collaboration if it’s to be done properly. Maya made a suggestion that instead we collect in a way that is reflective of this – how could we collect to reflect the challenges we are facing? She said she doesn’t see this enough, practitioners talking openly about why a project wasn’t possible with a strong sense of self awareness. The idea was quite exciting to me, I felt that this was something all group members as well as myself could speak to personally. I raised the idea during the group meeting, and initially it caused a lot of confusion. We got caught up on the question of ‘how can we justify creating an exhibition about a community for that community, without their input?’ Logistically that didn’t make sense, and I couldn’t come up with an answer after a long day of meetings. Fortunately, Kostas entered the meeting at the pinnacle of frustration and independently made exactly the same suggestion that Maya did.

Found on:

Instead of merely stating in the interpretation what we would have liked to have done given different circumstances, we could build this reflection into the structure of the exhibition itself. Kostas told us about a student exhibition that included a video during which the students reflected on the content, discussed any realisations they’d had and any redefinitions. Finally everyone agreed and we began to feel excited that we’d landed on a resolution. We agreed a video would be a good element to incorporate into our exhibition, where we could each reflect on the challenges of representing the different marginalised voices we are each focused on. It is important to me that we make it clear to the intended audience that we would have collaborated but weren’t able to, primarily out of fairness to potential contributors and due to the limitations of the assignment. We quickly came up with a new title idea: Reflections: representing experiences of COVID-19. For example: In the Poor Lass Podcast episode I listened to ‘A BLM Special’, one of the hosts discusses the various ways that white people control conversations around racism on social media, I would like to include this and reflect on it critically and openly in the context of the exhibition development. I am excited by the opportunity to engage in a process of critical reflection, and to really challenge myself and my group.

People in my group still had questions about what material to collect or how to collect it, until the Group Leader made an important distinction: instead of collecting primary sources, we will use secondary sources – things that already exist. We’d just need the appropriate permissions to do so.

Alexandra Park, December 2020

On a personal note – as I’m currently working from home 4 days a week and studying remotely at the same time, I haven’t been able to get out of the house very often. I’ve been feeling increasingly lethargic, tired and getting headaches from too much screen time. When I finish working at around 17:00, it’s dark and so walking hasn’t been possible. As soon as I got the opportunity and a morning off I went for a walk in Alexandra Park. This was not only useful for my physical and mental health but it was a beautiful day so I thought I’d attempt to capture some photos we could potentially use for the exhibition. I had a meeting arranged with the student who is building the digital space on ‘Artsteps’, I had no idea what she had planned so I took a range of photographs hoping she might find one or two useful. I took 3 panoramas and several pictures of the more recognisable or iconic features like the entrance, signage, cafe building and ping pong table. I noticed a sign which stated that this was ‘the people’s park’ – I posted this in the group chat and another of the students has decided to do some research to include in the portfolio. I later met with the student to offer support in the building of the exhibition. She showed me the beginnings of the space and together we discussed introducing an additional couple of elements. The first was to mimic the ‘plan’ of the park (pictured below) in the wayfinding of the exhibition. For example – the shape of the terrace. Could we create this in a recognisable way in the design of the floor plan? We also experimented with images of the lake. My team mate had heard about the use of water to encourage calm and reflection in an exhibition setting – at the ‘end’ of the exhibition, alongside the film of reflective content and a wall where our imagined visitors could add thoughts and record questions, there is a space for visitors to sit on park benches and enjoy a moment of calm whilst enjoying the scenery. There are birds in the foreground which prompted us to search for recognisable symbols we could place around the exhibition to make it feel more ‘park like’. We placed a bike at the beginning near the entrance, just as I’d photographed in the entrance to Alexandra itself. The other student had created a grass flooring and blue skies surrounding the space.

The photo I took at the entrance to Alexandra Park showing Chorlton Lodge and a parked bike.

I have made incremental progress with my Individual Assignment by discovering 2 potential case studies – 1. Artists Against an #Infodemic. It is described in the following way in a call out:

Everyday Africa is seeking submissions for visual art and storytelling that addresses key public health messages in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In partnership with CatchLight and Dysturb, they present Artists Against an #Infodemic, a collaborative visual journalism initiative to fight misinformation about COVID-19, and an open call for artists to participate.

Formats can include: photography, video, cartoons/comics, graphic design, paintings, drawings, memes, and more. Everyday Africa will work with the selected artists to package the material for distribution on social media and for display in public spaces as murals and/or projections., video, cartoons/comics, graphic design, paintings, drawings, memes, and more!

It is on a rolling deadline, and is a paid opportunity – 500$ per selected visual!

As stated by Olivia Kestin and Sarah El Gharib (19 Aug 20): ‘This Campaign Uses Art to Fight Racism and Misinformation Linked to COVID-19.‘ Artists from around the world are commissioned to produce public messaging to display within their communities so that information is strategically placed, accessible and addresses popular myths. As stated above, this can take any format – it could be a meme, a mural or a drawing. I had been thinking about Andy’s advice to question why co-production or collaboration was being used in this context – this case study provides a very clear example of a project which has very clear purpose. The artists are given agency through the project and are recognised as authoritative within their communities, (whether that’s in San Francisco, California or Nairobi, Kenya). There is very clear incentive for artists to ‘participate’ but they also get paid a one off fee of $500 for each visual. I am attempting to justify how this can still be counted as a contemporary collecting project. I hope to have defined this more clearly next week.

The other case study I have selected is the collaborative contemporary collecting project at History Colorado, US.


How has the pandemic changed your life?  

Share your experience with us. 

As the number of coronavirus cases grows in Colorado, we want to hear from you about how the outbreak is changing your daily life.

Screenshot from the website:

There are a number if ways (above) that HC attempt to invite participation and the submission of COVID-19 experiences. According to the institutions publication, co-production with the diverse communities in Colorado is at the heart of what they do. I am critical of one or two of their methods, however, and think this could give me a lot to talk about in the essay. Primarily, I believe the institution is still controlling submission too tightly, by asking restrictive and directed questions. This is in high contrast to Artists Against An Infodemic which is very much a grassroots movement and open to different mediums and interpretation. The institutional versus grassroots organisational approach could be a meaty discussion for this essay.

I have entered an object record for the COVID tester T-shirt, with this first draft for an object label: This T-shirt is part of the uniform worn by COVID-19 testers at the Manchester Airport Drive-Through Test Centre. It represents the magnification of class and privilege inequality when a crisis occurs. “It represents a job that no one in my position, at my age with my qualifications would do for minimum wage. It represents my resilience as a British Indian person from the North.” Working conditions are poor and the minimum-wage does not reflect the risk to health in undertaking the job, particularly for high-risk individuals such as the T-shirt’s owner. Testers are not considered as key workers and therefore don’t have access to key workers benefits or early vaccination. They don’t receive sick pay and the hours are physically gruelling. The object tells a story of personal struggle and desperation, but can also be more broadly contextualised by looking at the governments commissioning of contracts for private corporations to deliver health care services and to produce PPE during the pandemic. The prioritisation of profit over a duty of care to citizens, the resilience of the UK’s working class and racialised people. It is an object riddled with contradictions and hypocrisy.

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