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An Introduction to Collections

For centuries collections and archives have been central to our cultural, historical and artistic institutions. Within these structures the act of gathering, organising, documenting and presenting intends to offer multiple representations of identity, time and place. The archive preserves the past, its remnants and records, within a repository of human knowledge. However, it also offers a space for critical engagement and creative invention, for challenging the archive’s supposed objectivity with unconventional histories, subversive interpretations and speculative ideas. The act of collecting (both public and private) can inform other disciplines and, to a greater extent, culture and society as a whole. Collections seek to stave off material destruction and historical oblivion, but what is lost when history is charted by a Western acquisition model? How do archives and their objects translate historical realities into contemporary narratives? What can archives and collections do for culture today?

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The archive is an omnipresent temporary space. It reflects the realities of the past—while archived knowledge at the same time shapes the present. It has been the mission of public art museums and big private art collections to capture the current of time, whilst it has been the role of the artist to resist it. As the campaign to decolonise institutional collections has impacted and encouraged (so far) only minor structural change, we, as the general public, are prompted to reconsider the existing assumptions and conventions relating to the criteria and conditions that define a work’s canonical value and worthiness. How do archival practices and policies today determine the diversity and structure of collections?

This first issue for the 2022 season builds on the conversations and published works from fine print’s inaugural material exhibition FIELD NOTES—an investigation into the reimagining of our own archive. In this issue we hope to ascertain how and why we collect, the necessity for transcontinental connections to reveal and centre indigenous forms of story-telling, and the importance in expanding the canon beyond the references from Europe and America which are frequently cited and praised.

A work of art is an act of story-telling. Collecting art gathers differentiated objects and tales, which continue to suggest the social and cultural rituals of the world ‘outside’ of the collection. Whilst they may not offer solutions to the world’s problems, art in its individual and collective form preserve the shared values of humanity in specific historical contexts.

When considering the theme of this issue I am reminded of the experience of Christian Boltanski’s Les Archives du Coeur, installed in the unhabitable Teshima Island, Japan. Since 2005 Boltanski had collected soundbites of visitors heartbeats from around the world, presented back to an audience in a deeply moving visual and aural installation. The collection speaks to the universal ideas and collective concerns of the human condition. In 2021, in the month of his passing, Benesse Art House, Teshima, celebrated Boltanski’s legacy on the 11th anniversary of the collected artwork by exhibiting the artist’s own heartbeat, recorded and archived on the island over his lifetime. Here, the act of collecting and archiving transcended life itself.

COLLECTIONS presents a discussion around archival methods and presentations, proposing new possibilities for archival material as well as analysing the politics and paradigms of future archives. Featuring responses by Alisha Brown (NSW), Gillian Brown (SA) & Judy Freya Sibayan (PHL), Yask Desai (Vic), Jazz Money (NSW), Ella Mudie (NSW) and Alexandra Nitschke (SA).

— Rayleen Forester for  fine print