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Archives, Art and Activism


"What is at risk politically in thinking about embodied knowledge and performance as ephemeral as that which disappears? Whose memories 'disappear' if only archival knowledge is valorized and granted permanence?" (Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire, (2003), 36.)


Recent 'archival turns' in the arts and sciences in tandem with the digital revolution have resulted in the emergence of the archive as one of the key concepts and objects of critical cultural heritage study in the 21st century. This strand examines how engagement with archives and cultural heritage material, with, through and in relation to art and activism impacts on the formation and articulation of individual and collective identity, memory, cultural values and power relations. Building on innovative engagements at UCL and UGOT (Meskimmon, von Rosen, Sand 2014; von Rosen 2015) combining scholarly, activist and artistic approaches, a new flexible participatory and collaborative methodology has started to emerge suitable for exploring complex societal challenges in relation to archives.
Making art addresses processes of meaning-making rather than ownership of objects. Following Marsha Meskimmon (2011), it can be argued that “art is a vital form of articulation” capable of staying put and keeping alive also in relation to the most complex and painful aspects of human life and history. The capacity of art to enable participation and propel the possibility of change denotes a critical shift from conceiving art as simple representations to agential procedures. Exploring constitutive imagination at the interstices and contact zones between art, activism and archives, the strand seeks to contribute to methodological development capable of acknowledging polymorphous differences and propel change. From this perspective Foucault’s theory of the inextricable power relations presupposed and constituted by knowledge will be used to explore the potential of the archive of being a place where knowledge is structured around process, a playground for doing and experiencing knowledge in the sense of ‘coming to knowing’.
In Andrew Flinn’s (2011) understanding ‘archival activism’ refers to active engagement in radical or counter-hegemonic public history-making activities. These non-professional grassroots initiatives are often allied to progressive, democratizing, and antidiscrimination agendas, and professional archivists, other heritage workers, and scholars should be prepared to actively and creatively engage and collaborate equitably s with these social movements in order to support social change and transformation. The prevailing digital abundance as well as digital divides increases the necessity to find new ways of identifying, preserving and making accessible materials which better represent all the diverse aspects of society. Crucially this is not only or not even mostly a technological challenge but also a social and ethical one.


A critical heritage approach employing and deploying art and activist approaches in relation to the archive and global societal challenges can in a Foucauldian understanding be described as the ‘art of voluntary insubordination, that of reflected intractability’. In recognition of this the strand will focus on the roles of art, activism and archives as full participants in conceiving and reconfiguring the political, ethical and social landscape in a contested and global world. How, why and on what grounds can these ‘digging where we dance, dancing where we dig’ approaches transform the way people think about themselves, their communities, their environment, their pasts, their aspirations and their futures?

With the digital and mobile technologies providing now the almost ubiquitous tools and environments through which many of these engagements and interactions happen, we seek to explore and engage with the intersections between art, archives and activism in relating the past to the present and helping to fashion a new world.

Highlights during 2015:
Archives, Art and Activism: Exploring Critical Heritage Approaches to Global Societal Challenges, symposium 3-5 September 2015, at UCL, in collaboration with CHS/UGOT.

Andrew Flinn, “Archival activism. Independent and community-led archives, radical public history and the heritage professions”, InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies Volume 7, Issue 2, 2011.

Marsha Meskimmon, Contemporary art and the cosmopolitan imagination, Routledge, London 2011.

Marsha Meskimmon, Astrid von Rosen, Monica Sand (eds), Dance as Critical Heritage: Archives, Access, Action. Critical Heritage Studies, Gothenburg 2014. Open Access: http://criticalheritagestudies.gu.se/digitalAssets/1497/1497255_dach-report.pdf

Astrid von Rosen, “Introduction: Dream-Playing Beyond the Canon”, in Dream-Playing: Accessing the Non-texts of Strindberg’s A Dream Play in Düsseldorf 1915–18, Makadam, Göteborg (forthcoming).


Strand leaders

Astrid von Rosen, see coordinators

Cecilia Lagerström is a director, artistic researcher and senior lecturer at the Academy of Music and Drama, University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Cecilia has a PhD in Performance Studies at Stockholm University (2003) with focus on acting training at the Institutet för Scenkonst and the dimension of tacit knowing. Cecilia has been directing performance work since 1993 in theatres and other venues. She has a long term collaboration with the actress and tight rope dancer Helena Kågemark, at present under the label Alkemisterna (the Alchemists) based at Konstepidemin in Gothenburg. Since 2005 Cecilia has been active in the development of artistic research in the field of the theatre in Sweden. She has been leading several artistic research- and development projects, and since 2008 she has been head of the research subject in performing arts at the Academy of Music and Drama. She is supervising several doctoral students and master students. Cecilia is regularly commissioned as a lecturer and workshop leader, but also as an opponent, committee member and adviser in research contexts in different Nordic countries. During 2013-15 Cecilia is conducting a project on Walking, in collaboration with Critical Heritage Studies.

Linda Sternö is lecturer in film composition, at Valand Academy, Göteborg University since 2008. Linda started as film director, but has over time changed more and more into producing film, where she is still active today in her own production company. The latest feature leangth documentary production premieres in cinemas and television in September 2014. Right now Linda is developing thoughts and practices around the camera as a learning tool in preschool and elementary school, and also the camera as a tool to improve elder’s health in cooperation with The Centre for Culture and Health, Göteborg University. http://www.akademinvaland.gu.se/forskning/Film-/aktuella-projekt/barnfilmskolan



Astrid von Rosen is one of the partners in the recently granted project Turning points and continuity. Read project summary here.

Mats Malm is starting up the project Conjuring up the Artist from the Archives: Ivar Arosenius Digitization and Koordination of Archives for Enhanced Accessibility and Research, funded for 2016-2018 by The Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences and The Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities. More information on the project can be found here.

GPS 400 involves several of CCHS cluster leaders. The GPS 400 project is a collaboration between researchers from the Faculty of Arts and the Centre for Digital Humanities at the University of Gothenburg, as well as partners both at the local and international level. The project establishes a network through which cultural science research is integrated with public participation, whose results and activities are freely available on a digital platform that also serves as database and interfaces. The purpose is to present new and empirically verified results about Gothenburg's historical and contemporary urban culture, as well as to make archive material and research results on these processes digitally available. Find the projects website here.

Page Manager: Jenny Högström Berntson|Last update: 5/22/2015

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