What is Out of the Archives?
The Women’s Library is pleased to announce Out of the Archives, curated by Anna Colin, the first group exhibition showcasing newly-created artworks inspired by items in the collection.
Working across a range of media from photography, to film and performance, the artists Helen Cammock, Marysia Lewandowska, Olivia Plender and Hester Reeve, Eileen Simpson and Ben White have focused on specific cultural, social and political events represented in The Women’s Library archives. These include women’s migration to South Africa from the 1860s to the 1880s; militant suffragettes’ radical relationship to art and representation; post-World War Two folk revival; and the 1980s Greenham Common Women’s Peace Campaign.
Drawing on letters related to British women’s emigration to South Africa in the late 19th century, Helen Cammock’s film is built around three fictional characters: a white governess, a white servant and a black servant. Their experiences of working on a South African farm – including their possible relation to one another – are conveyed to the camera through the dispassionate voices of three women sitting in contemporary settings. The film also addresses the cultural circumstances under which historical records are created; more particularly how middle class and European perspectives prevail.
Inspired by the figure of the suffragette as militant artist, Olivia Plender and Hester Reeve have realised three works that explore how the suffragettes publicly denounced women’s subjugation. Plender and Reeve call in to question the traditional separation between art and politics, through an exploration of the militant attacks waged on famous art works by suffragettes and artists such as Mary Richardson. Using photography and video, the artists also revisit other emblematic moments of the suffragettes’ revolt, as well as their relationship to violence.
Eileen Simpson and Ben White’s commission takes as a starting point The Brilliant and the Dark, a cantata for women’s voices first performed by 1,000 women volunteers in 1969. Simpson and White have invited the all-women choir Gaggle to remix the music and lyrics of the original composition for a modern music video. Filmed on location at The Women’s Library, the video re-animates the 1969 performance – from the backstage preparations, to choreographed moments in the live event – all of which are documented in photographs held in the Library’s collection. The project will culminate in a live performance and the distribution of a new score.
Marysia Lewandowska’s project Open Hearing revisits the creative politics of the Greenham Common women peace campaigners to force a public debate and the legal responses to this unprecedented act of so-called civil disobedience. Amongst other works, at the centre of Open Hearing is a pod-like structure referencing the makeshift shelters of the campaigners and acting here as a cinema and listening booth in which Tim Knock’s film And the Fence Came Tumbling Down (2001) alternated with a soundtrack engaging some aspects of the court cases deposited in the Library’s archives by the Greenham Common Women.
More than an exhibition, Out of the Archives is a knowledge-sharing project which provides artists with the tools to access rare material and to present their work in the context of the Library. In turn, through working with artists, The Women’s Library supports alternative readings of its collections, valuing the creative potential brought about by artworks.
OUT OF THE ARCHIVES EVENTS:
Thursday 17 June, 7pm: Tour of the exhibition led by Anna Colin, curator of Out of the Archives.
Saturday 11 September, 12-3.30pm: A seminar bringing together the artists commissioned for the Out of the Archives project and guest speakers to present and discuss their responses to the archive. Check the website for further details.
Thursday 23 September, 7pm: Live performance orchestrated by artists Eileen Simpson & Ben White (Open Music Archive) presenting re-interpretations of The Brilliant and the Dark in collaboration with the all-women choir Gaggle and vocalist Ellen Southern.
Box Office: 0207 320 2222
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