Art, Work, and Archives: Performativity and the Techniques of Production

Jane Birkin is a former doctoral candidate at Winchester School of Art, completing her practice-based PhD in June 2015.  Her essay ‘Art, Work, and Archives: Performativity and the Techniques of Production’ was recently published in Archive Journal.


This essay attempts to address the significance of my longstanding working connection with image collections and archives. It explains how aspects of archival thinking permeate the practices of various artists (including my own), notably through the application of performative working methods that position their work within an established genre of indexing and categorisation.

Performativity is defined here as a two-step procedure: firstly the making of an instruction, and secondly the following of that instruction. This is at odds with the early designation by J.L. Austin, in How to Do Things with Words, where the ‘saying’ and the ‘doing’ are one and the same thing. It also avoids the theatrical aspects that are often associated with performance art.

The call for papers was on the theme of ‘Radical Archives’, and asked what this well-used term really means. The ‘radical’ that is so often perceived in relation to the archive in terms of radical content (punk archives and so on) is here differently defined through archival cataloguing techniques of ordering, description and listing. In the way of the ‘readymade’, these institutional techniques become radicalised through their passage into art practice. The use of archival description in relation to the photographic image (the subject of my PhD thesis) constitutes a radical form of writing and reading the image, at odds with traditional hermeneutical analysis. It is an indexical rather than a representational approach, consistent with the recent material turn in photographic studies that is becoming a critical methodology in theory, practice and education, and frequently with reference to the ‘archived’ image.

Read the essay here:

Art, Work, and Archives: Performativity and the Techniques of Production



Re-Making an Exhibition

The exhibition, Reading Room: Leaves, Threads and Traces (November 2015), exhibited book art originally shown in Delhi and at the Colombo Art Biennale, Sri Lanka (2014) and Kochi-Muziris Biennale, India (2014). Working in collaboration with Blueprint 12, these shows were curated by Amit Jain, joined staff and students at Winchester School of Art for the seminar and the installation of works. The original shows of ‘Reading Room’ featured works by fifteen artists from across the world. Many of these works were shipped over for a new iteration of the show, and which were brought into dialogue with a selection from the Artists’ Books Collection held at the Winchester School of Art Library, which comprises book art from the 1960s to the present day. The seminar will be co-convened by Sunil Manghani, Amit Jain, August Davis, and Linda Newington.

As the final wall text produced for the show explains:

In placing items from the School’s own collection alongside the visiting collection of book art from South Asia, the themes of leaves, threads and traces are explored. It brings to the fore both the physicality of books – their material properties and relationship to material culture – and an imagination of books. This edition of Reading Room opens up how we interleave, draw together and re-trace thoughts, beliefs and emotions within the boundaries of a book and the cultures in which they circulate.

Preliminary curatorial decisions, such as the objects to be made available for display, had already been made in lead up to the installation of the show. However, the all-important positioning of the objects, the handling of the space, and the ‘journey(s)’ laid out for the viewer – the exhibition making as a practice – was to be carried out by the postgraduate research group in just three days. Amit Jain, who had curated the two previous exhibitions and brought the books over from India, purposely played little part in the decision-making processes. He was interested to see how his exhibitions would be re-made, and how he would himself learn from the process. Amit made it clear from the start that the final exhibition, whatever shape it was to take, could never be perceived as a failure in either curatorial or pedagogic terms, but that the processes of making and juxtaposition, and the subsequent viewing by the public, would serve as a practical site of learning. Like all the events in the re:making series, this was designed as a collaborative and experimental task for PhD students; it was to be an intensive project that would thoroughly test the proposition of thinking through making that is key to this seminar series.


The book is a mini exhibition space in itself: it has content and it has a physicality and a three dimensional space through which to navigate this content. Reading Room could be perceived then as an exhibition of interrelating exhibitions—a difficult and interesting curatorial notion to begin with. As we all know, the navigation of both books and exhibitions is not always linear, it is a complex back and forth interaction, often with multiple visits to certain parts. In this limited time, a coherent exhibition had to be installed that would expose commonality and create a dialogue between the two different collections, yet would still allow an openness of conditions so that the visitor/reader would be able to traverse the display in their own way and to make their own connections.

As with all exhibitions, logistics around the objects and the space in which they are to be displayed play a large part in the decision-making around display. The extremely delicate nature of a number of the objects meant that they could not be truly navigated at all, but were displayed as static objects that denied the visitor the haptic interface usually associated with the book. Happily, some objects could be touched and used as books; indeed they actively required handling in order to explore their methodology and message. Other objects were not books as we commonly experience them at all, but book-related artworks in different forms. These were conceptual pieces, some of a highly political nature, with temporal qualities (usually experienced through page turning) here embodied and understood through the varying and openly exhibited processes of their making.

RR19-2Before the books were even unpacked, systems of good practice had to be formulated that would ensure the safe handling of the objects, and some background information on the objects had to be relayed and considered. It was late on Day One before the fascinatingly inaccessible packing cases were opened and the books from India were uncovered and laid out. For the group this was at the same time a contemplative act of revealing and an abrupt realisation of the task ahead.

The three days of installation were peppered with periods of notional inactivity, weariness and even boredom. But these lulls were actually active times of information processing (such times play an important part in all making projects) and they undoubtedly played a significant part in the successful, intelligent and articulate final installation of the show. The act of unpacking that was so physically experienced by the group could be viewed metaphorically as a critical part of the thinking through making process.




Drawing Together

Cheng-Chu Weng is a PhD candidate at Winchester School of Art, undertaking studio-based research concerned with shadows, the body and space. In this post she recounts her undertaking of an outdoor participatory drawing event, Drawing Together, which was part of 10 Days 2015 CHALK, Winchester’s biennial, interdisciplinary, arts festival.

Drawing Together was devised as a participatory outdoor drawing event. Co-orangised by Cheng-Chu Weng and Sunil Manghani, the event was held on Saturday 17 October 2015, 11am – 1pm at the Discovery Centre, in Winchester. The event was part of the wider programming for 10 Days, Winchester’s  biennial, interdisciplinary, arts festival. The event was advertised as follows:

Through the medium of chalk and shadows Drawing Together brings people together in a shared act of drawing. Visitors to the Discovery Centre are invited to draw together as a means to draw ourselves together if only fleetingly, just as our shadows are mere fleeting images of ourselves. This act of drawing upon the ground of the city in which we live and work is intended to mark a temporary reflection of ourselves as individuals and as a community.

The theme of the biennale was ‘chalk’. Thus, Drawing Together sought to make explicit use of chalk as its medium, along with shadows. The drawing of shadows, which are fleeting, ephemeral phenomena also relate to the ethereal mists of Winchester, borne of its chalk geology.

As an artist living in Winchester city, my aim was to engage with local people, beyond my studio at the School. My fine art practice begins in painting, but has now developed through installation works. I explore phenomenological readings of vision as embodied space: How people look, feel, and experience not just things, but emotions and memories. The phenomenon of the shadow is central to my practice, as it evokes questions about how we define the boundaries of our bodies and identities. What, for example, do we claim to be inside and outside of an outline? In Drawing Together, my aim was to  invite, demonstrate and direct people to mark out their shadows with chalk. This act of drawing upon the ‘ground’ of the city itself in which we live was intended to mark a temporary reflection of ourselves as individuals and as a community. (The plan was hold the event on the paved area immediately in front of the Centre’s entrance, but the weather was in fact quite poor, particularly the light levels on the day, which hampered the aim to draw shadows from natural light. We managed a short period outside, but in the main we had to move inside the Discovery Centre and work with artificial lighting).

Photograph: Ruby Chan

The process of engaging with local people through using chalks, lights and shadows prompted the action of tracing shadows. The following rubric was provided:

  1. Use chalk provided to trace the outline of the shadows of people around you as they form on the paved area outside of the Discovery Centre. Feel free to trace as many shadows as you like and do not worry about lines overlapping.
  2. Provide your name and address to the event organizers if you wish to receive a postcard of the finished work.
  3. Please feel free to post your own photos and videos of the drawing as it develops. Use hashtag #chalkshadows for Twitter and Instagram and/or post comments to the Facebook

Projects and artworks with a social dimension at their core have become increasingly common. However, any social artwork reveals not just collaborative efforts, but also what it means to be individual within a group. Drawing Together similarly played with the boundary between individual and collective. However, as a convenor of the project, what was particularly revealing was how the process of persuading visitors to draw shadow and make marks is not an easy job. It requires a good deal of skill in communication. This was a challenge for me. I am used to producing works individually, working in the studio environment which is tailored to making. In this environment there is a form of internal dialogue. It is a matter of experiencing objects as a form of non-verbal communication. Thus, aside from the event happening on the day, the underlying challenge to running a social community-orientated project – even one that on the surface seems very simple – is the lengthy process of organising and communicating with collaborators and the festival organisers. As a maker, I realise this is equally a part of making the ‘work’. However, it is really the participants on the day who bring the work into being. Once people have been invited to act, the situation changes; everyone can become an artist, as befits Joseph Beuys’ concept of Social sculpture. In this case, it was interesting to note, when comparing the two drawing surfaces, the pavement (outside of the Discovery Centre) and the boards (inside of the Discovery Centre), people found it much easier to be persuaded to draw on the pavement. There is a practical reason perhaps, since they do not need to take off shoes and need not worry about making a mess. To mark a person’s shadow on the pavement is more straightforward, and may even draw upon the participant’s memories of playing on the pavement, such as marking out hopscotch in a school playground etc.

The use of social media was suggested to participants, to allow the project to engage not just materially but also virtually. Images circulated on the day, and the final collaborative ‘drawing’ from the day was photographed and printed in a limited set of postcards (and sent out to all those who participated). However, the relationship between the participants, object (chalk) and surface or support (the ground, drawing boards) was the real ‘event’ of the project. Here we might think of Martin Heidegger’s concept of intentionality, the idea of the object within the subject intention, as Joel Smith explains: ‘Equipment is ready-to-hand, and this means that it is ready to usehandy, or available. The readiness-to-hand of equipment is its manipulability in our dealings with it’ (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

Drawing Together, in the end, was about the experience of the body – and indeed bodies – in using chalk as a means to trace our shadows. Ultimately this is an impossible task, but one we feel is nonetheless ‘ready to hand’. It was heartening to see people spent time to engage with the project. I am grateful to my collaborator, Sunil Manghani, and the Biennale organisers, Sophie and Jane, for helping to make Drawing Together happen. A big thanks also to Elham, Sarvenaz, Ruby and James for helping out on the day.

See also Re: Making


The Image of the Network

Yigit Soncul is a PhD Candidate at Winchester School of Art, working on a research project under the title of Contagious and Immunogenic Images of the Network. Working with Prof. Jussi Parikka, he has helped establish a research lab, Design and Media Ecologies, which brings together staff and students from across the school. In this post, he reports on the inaugural symposium of the lab, which he co-covenened. 


The Image of the Network was a one day symposium, held at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton (WSA) on June 16, 2015. The event, which was generously funded by postgraduate research funds of the school, also marked the initiation of the new conceptual/creative lab of WSA, Design and Media Ecologies a platform that engages with media theory and design. In this event we aimed to explore the intersections of aesthetics, politics and technology. Five presentations of the day ventured into an area upon which visual and network cultures overlap, whilst maintaining an overtly political/critical perspective. Although the event was open to public and those affiliated with the university on any level, WSA PhD students were assigned a collection of readings pertaining to the topics prior to date—hence, rendering the event, for them, an intensive workshop mapping aforementioned domains of enquiry. These texts included primary literature from French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and German art historian Hans Belting, along with titles from the speakers; Olga Goriunova, Tony D. Sampson and Jussi Parikka.

After the welcoming remarks by myself and Jussi Parikka , the day started with Dr. Tony D. Sampson’s presentation, “Waking the Somnambulist: The Capture of Affect, Attention and Memory (and Why We Need New Weapons to Stop it).” Sampson works as Reader in Digital Culture and Communications at University of East London and is one of the scholars responsible for a recently vitalised interest in the oeuvre of late 19th, early 20th century sociologist Gabriel Tarde. His book, Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks (2012), offers a refreshing take on Tardean contagion theory in relation to the contemporary technological-aesthetic condition. His focus on the day was the figure of the somnambulist(sleepwalker), which was utilised to elucidate the mode in which the contemporary subject navigates networked environments. Sampson was particularly careful in avoiding an approach that is based on a nature-culture divide, throughout his discussion on how networks mobilise life.

The second presentation of the day was delivered by Dr. Olga Goriunova, Senior Lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London, with the title “Digital Subjects: On Persons and Singularity in Calculative Infrastructures.” Goriunova has published extensively in areas such as digital art and software studies, visual culture and aesthetics, and computational culture. She is the author of Art Platforms and Cultural Production on the Internet (2012) and editor of Fun and Software: Exploring Pain, Pleasure and Paradox in Computing (2014) among other academic literature. Goriunova’s approach during the talk was characterised by a refusal of online/offline binary. Instead she tackled the entanglement of these by employing a continuous model of subjectivity in the digital age. Goriunova does not search for digital subjectivities through venturing into what can be called as surveillance cultures. Rather, she explores the space between embodied beings and the data produced through their being in the world, to locate such digital subjectivities.

Following the presentations by guest speakers in the morning, the afternoon session continued with shorter talks by scholars from WSA. Dr. Jussi Parikka, who is Professor in Technological Culture and Aesthetics delivered a paper entitled “Smart Cities, Networks and the Industrial Residual.” Parikka has completed his media ecology trilogy in 2015 with the book A Geology of Media. His paper also employed a media ecological approach to the concept of “smart city” which emphasised the materiality of networked condition. Parikka explored the image of the city through the concept of network, alongside underlining contemporary cities as censored assemblages.

After Parikka, I presented a short paper, based on my PhD project, “Contagious and Immunogenic Images of the Network.” In parallel with the project, the paper discussed the prevalence of the image of the mask in present screen cultures through contagion theory and problematised the immunising qualities of its embodiments by organic and inorganic media alike. Dr. Jane Birkin, a PhD candidate at the time of the event, delivered the last talk of the day: “Keeping Time: Archive as Secure Back-up for the Networked Image.” Archival and distributed nature of the current temporal, textual and visual regimes were aptly woven by Birkin in her discussion of the networked image. The day ended with an hour long discussion session with all five speakers and the audience, chaired by Prof. Ryan Bishop from WSA.

Reading Room: Leaves, Threads and Traces

Reading Room: Leaves, Threads and Traces
Winchester School of Art Gallery
Tuesday, 2 November – Saturday, 7 November 2015,

The exhibition brings book art, originally shown at the Colombo Art Biennale (Sri Lanka) and Kochi-Muziris Biennale (India), into dialogue with a selection from the Artists’ Book Collection held at  the Winchester School of Art Library, which comprises book art from the 1960s to the present day.

In placing items from the School’s own collection alongside the visiting collection of book art from South Asia, the themes of leaves, threads and traces are explored. It brings to the fore both the physicality of books – their material properties and relationship to material culture – and an imagination of books. This edition of Reading Room opens up how we interleave, draw together and re-trace thoughts, beliefs and emotions within the boundaries of a book and the cultures in which they circulate.

The exhibition has been made possible through the support of Blueprint 12 and Winchester School of Art.