Today’s been a slightly more leisurely day, with opportunities to talk one-on-one with lots of other people here at UCA. This morning I’d arranged a long tutorial with an animation undergraduate student who is very interested in Švankmajer and Surrealism. It’s always so rewarding to be able to talk to students about shared interests, and as there is so much material on Švankmajer that is obscure or hard to find, I was able to pass a fair bit of information on.
As I was holding the tutorial in a reading room in the library, I also had the privilege of meeting the lovely teams at the Digitisation Unit, the Centre for Digitisation Scholarship and the library front desk. I’m still extremely envious of the A0 flatbed scanner in the Digitisation Unit. My own methods of documenting some of the rare books I have at home are embarrassing, to say the least (an A4 scanner and an odd home-made contraption to hold fragile materials in a position that doesn’t damage their spines as they are being copied, followed by swaddling in mountains of acid-free tissue paper).
Rebekah then ran another really useful session on archiving with another group of MA students in the archive. It was great to be able to get material out of boxes to show them; it’s always so much more vivid and tactile up close (particularly when it comes to cels).
This afternoon we had a few people pop into the archive with requests, including a couple of members of staff. Hearing about the ways in which archival material is being incorporated into teaching here at Farnham provided a lot of food for thought…and also got me thinking more about the ways in which I’ve been incorporating archival material into my PhD research. Over the course of my studies, it’s become increasingly important to me that I delve into ephemera and archival material produced by the Quay brothers and Jan Švankmajer. I say ‘ephemera and archival material’, but I find those distinctions can be rather problematic when researching the artists. Švankmajer and the Quays are ardent collectors themselves, with their collections (and the psychology of collecting) providing inspiration and even a methodology during the creative process. Moreover, the Quays’ MoMA NY retrospective (for example) saw scripts, tapes, and even beer mats exhibited alongside more ‘conventional’ works, and some of the former were incredibly creative (and useful) in their own right. As a researcher, it seems appropriate – at times, absolutely necessary – that I approach their work in an interdisciplinary, holistic (and painstakingly thorough!) manner. This is not to say that distinctions between high and low culture aren’t important to a certain extent; if anything, my practice as a researcher has cast them into even sharper relief, even if I then contest them. I’ve also realised that the approach is always potentially at risk of morphing into a contentious ‘anything and everything goes’, so I’m having to guard against conflations and misplaced emphases at every turn! A fraught, but ultimately rewarding, process.
In short: archives are worthwhile, and worth a visit. And, of course, that’s what brought me here in the first place…