Institute of Contemporary Arts: An Archival Experiment – Lucy Bayley, Ben Cranfield and Anne Massey


<< ISSUE Nº 1 Contents

Hal Foster, in An Archival Impulse, cites the Independent Group (IG) as an example of an earlier interest in modes of archival representation. However, it is not what Foster describes as the IG’s ‘pin-board aesthetic’ that makes them interesting for a re-exploration, but rather the way in which the diversity of the IG’s practices from exhibition making and design, to writing and slide shows, are rendered as absent presences within the archive of the IG’s institutional home, London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts. Derrida’s (an) archival fever is a drive to preserve and remember, repeat and destroy. This contradictory impulse is inherent within an institute dedicated to the pursuit of the amnesiac timeframe of the ‘contemporary’, whilst being wedded to the historical trajectories of practices inherent in the designation of the ‘arts’. (An) archival Impulse, in Hal Foster’s terms, is about disrupting the stability of the archive in order to produce other narratives or possibilities. Recognising the destructive and generative potential of the archive, the idealistic aspects of the ICA may be recovered as a utopian trace in the archive that could never be fully realised in the heterotopia of the arts-space. Three researchers, Anne Massey, Lucy Bayley and Ben Cranfield have created such a destabilising experiment in archival reanimation through an illustrated conversation. Starting with a single archival fragment they have added to it another item from across the ICA’s history, extending the possibilities present across the non-indexical space and time of imagined connection.

Anne Massey:

‘…retrieved in a gesture of alternative

knowledge of counter-memory.’ (1)

1_Growth & Form Document.jpg

Growth and Form exhibition proposal, © Institute of Contemporary Arts, London. Courtesy Collection Anne Massey

The Richard Hamilton retrospective at Tate Modern from 13th February to 26th May 2014 included a reconstruction of the 1951 exhibition, Growth and Form. This was an impeccable and pristine representation of this art and science exhibition. With its blown up biological images and lone sea shells and skulls, placed carefully on recreated, modernist shelving, this was a triumph of contemporary curation. Hamilton’s guiding hand was a ghostly presence, having defined the display in consultation with the curators before his death. Here is one story of a cultural moment, preserved to preserve the memory of one British artist. After seeing the reconstruction, I was prompted to look back on my own Growth and Form archive, given to me by the former Director of the ICA, Dorothy Morland, and housed haphazardly in my home. She died in 1999, but not before securing the future history of the ICA by safeguarding its early archive, and lodging most of it at the Tate. This is now the Dorothy Morland Collection, charting the history of the ICA from 1946 until 1968. Here is another story of cultural history, preserved to preserve the memory of one British arts administrator. But I hold another ICA archive. As Hal Foster has argued: ‘…these private archives do question public ones: they can be seen as perverse orders that aim to disturb the symbolic order at large.’ (2)

I found one document, yellowed with age and torn where I pierced it with a hole punch. It’s crumpled and frayed at the top, as this is a foolscap size piece of paper and the folder is A4. Should I be left in charge of this stuff? Is there a duplicate in the Tate Archives?

The document signals to me that Growth and Form was organised by a committee, comprising some of the leading, radical scientists of the day. Richard Hamilton is one name amongst 13 others. Chaired by the advertising executive, J R Brumwell, the group concerned themselves with raising sponsorship and finding a venue for the exhibition which explores links between art and science at a crucial tipping point. The discovery of DNA, the use of X-rays and crystallography to explore the structure of life accorded perfectly with D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson’s empirical thesis.

In 1995 I argued that this exhibition reinforced the non-Aristotelean approach of the Independent Group. (3) But now I see another reading. It’s a fragment from history, a document I had forgotten for twenty years, which suggests the networks of science in Britain during the early 1950s were vital to the ICA, to its programming, to the Independent Group’s foundation, and to Richard Hamilton. I put the document back where I found it. I want to forget it.

Lucy Bayley: “Fill it out with your own imagination”

Joseph Beuys (4)

2_Lucy Bayley_tate.jpg

Description of the components that made up the Enviroment by Joseph Beuys called 'Richtkrafte' ,1974 © Tate, London 2014

In the Tate archive a document describes the details of a work by Joseph Beuys, Richkräfte (Directive Forces), created for the ICA’s 1974 exhibition Art into Society Society into Art. It provides an index of the materials the work comprises: 77 black boards covered in Beuys chalk diagrams, 23 ready to go onto the next location, three wooden easels, a locked chest painted black and a stick painted brown (without a rubber bottom piece, owned by Beuys). It doesn’t say what the document is for, presumably it’s a packing list, it’s dated the day after the exhibition closed and is signed by the joint organizers and the ICA technician. After its showing at the ICA the work moved through a series of transformations, first in New York (1975), second at the International Pavilion in Venice (1976), ending up in the collection at the Nationalgalerie in Berlin (1977). Like Growth and Form, Richkräfte isn’t fixed in one historical moment but can and has been revisited in its complete form; it can also be open for what Hal Foster calls “anomic fragmentation.” (5) Art into Society aimed to be a ‘model’ for exhibition making. (6) It would evolve out of colloquium (a meeting, or assembly for discussion) with the selected artists, Norman Rosenthal (ICA), Christos Joachimides (Berlin art critic) and historian Caroline Tisdall. Taking as a starting point “Mitbestimmung” the German for participation: “it was concerned with developing the social and, thus by extension, the political language and context of art.” (7) It moved away from, in Rosenthal’s words, the “capriciousness” of the museum or gallery director, the hazards of some “ghastly” open exhibitions and the control of an individual or committee, towards a democratic system of organizing. (8) For Derrida and Foucault the archive is a way of seeing or knowing and therefore a symbol of power. (9) Read through this theory, Art into Society can be understood as an archival approach of exhibition making. The exhibition was a critical examination of a previous exhibition Art in the Political Struggle (Hanover, 1972) that had itself emerged out of a colloquium. The documentation of the Hanover exhibition formed a retrospective section in the ICA version in the form of a large-scale print-out of the ICA exhibition publication alongside a video of the 1974 colloquium. For Beuys, it was not the documentation but his constant presence that was crucial. He held a school of free expansion of creative concepts where the lines and patterns of Directive Forces for a new society were drawn from a continuing conversations with the exhibition visitors; we find a recipe for fruit cake, a map of cosmic consciousness, and references to his visit to Ireland through a reoccuring dividing line and the organic symbols from Neolithic New Grange carvings. (10) They are politically implusive, abrupt and play on coincidence. Yet they are also anticipated preservation. As the boards were completed they were spray fixed and laid on the floor for people to walk over. Richkräfte, now part of the Nationalgalerie in Berlin, is both an owned artwork, and an archival index. Though Beuys argued against a crisis in materialism there is value in considering a materialist reading of the object; it takes us away from historical narrative and towards a “battery of information” or what Beuys referred to as ‘Fonds’, materials with multiple properties.

Ben Cranfield: “they are recalcitrantly material, fragmentary

rather than fungible” (11)

3_1965 bulletin.jpg

ICA Bulletin (June, 1965) © Institute of Contemporary Arts, London. Courtesy Collection Anne Massey

Who has the right to tell, re-tell, not-to-tell, forget, remember or re-claim? The duality of the archive that Derrida speaks of, one that is destructive and generative, the root of democracy and authoritarianism, haunts any act of archival formation and retrieval. (12) In his discussion of the Archival Impulse in contemporary art, Foster admits, in an aside, that this impulse might be more properly considered an-archival. (13) Indeed, Foster’s examples are to the archive what the work of Mark Dion, Susan Hiller, Fred Wilson or Marcel Broodthaers are to the museum – expositions of the fragile, arbitrary and tragic nature of the technologies of knowledge formation. What, then remains after the archive, as place of origin, as singular authority, is destroyed? It is the archival fragment - recalcitrant, but mute, monumental in its partiality. The document retrieved after twenty years, after forty years, recovered from oblivion, is not fungible, in that its status is one of specific materiality. However, its primary status is not as unique object, but as a witness of what might have been lost and what has almost certainly already been lost. It is not its irreplaceability that must be encountered, not its uniqueness as a sign of its authenticity, but its ‘there-ness’ - its resistance to a finished story and a complete, reconstructed image. The archival fragment asks us to forget its origins and to revel in its partiality, in a state, perhaps, as Sven Spieker notes, of play. (14) The fugitive fragment, so freed, runs ludically through the archive, opening up other possible archives, potential futures and possible pasts. What is opened up? What is closed down? Rather than a crystallisation of a positivity that affirms the institution in the present as a space of contemporary art, we may take the ICA’s archive as a place of forgotten potential futures, other directions, cancellations and negations. In June 1965 the ICA published the following statement: ‘owing to the overwhelming success of the Event which took place at the ICA on May 11th it has been decided to postpone the next one until larger and more suitable premises have been found.’ (15) The ‘success’ referred to was that of Mark Boyle and Joan Hills’ event Oh What a Lovely Whore. It was an event built on the idea of the radical valuing of all experience and the particular value of failure. In a piece published by Boyle in the ICA bulletin preceding the event he mused on the precarious nature of the theatre as ‘a complex interweaving of layers of reality,’ where ‘even the stage struck must reach something near orgasm at the dramatic impact of an actor forgetting his lines.’ (16) In Oh What a Lovely Whore there were no lines to forget as the stage was turned over to the ‘audience’, who were informed that if they wanted an event they would have to create it themselves, and so they did, going ‘berserk’. (17) In fact, by removing the ‘script’ and replacing it with a situation (orchestrated though it was), Boyle and Hills removed the possibility of failure or success from the project. It was, rather, a radical experiment in contingency, in ‘digging’ reality. (18) The ICA’s effective cancellation of the further two events that had been originally advertised may have inspired Boyle and Hills in the creation of their parody ICA: the Institute of Contemporary Archaeology. Indeed, perhaps this would have been a better name for a space dedicated to the discovery of the fragmented present. By forgetting dominant narratives and institutionalised histories, is it possible to reclaim a potential future from a fragment at play?

Anne Massey

Anne Massey is based at Middlesex University and has been fascinated by the history of the ICA for over thirty years. Her book The Independent Group: Modernism and Mass Culture, 1945-59 (Manchester University Press, 1995) has been called ‘groundbreaking ‘ by Benjamin H.D. Buchloh and Out of the Ivory Tower: the Independent Group and Popular Culture (Manchester University Press, 2013) has just been published. She was guest editor for ‘The Independent Group Issue’, journal of visual culture, August 2013 and is the author, with an Introduction by Gregor Muir, of the ICA’s new book, ICA London, 1946-68.

Ben Cranfield

Dr Ben Cranfield is Director of the Doctoral Programme in Humanities and Cultural Studies and the MRes in Cultural Enquiry at Birkbeck. His work is currently concerned with the idea of experiment in post-war art practice, cultural institutions, archives and curatorial form. In 2007-8 he curated the series 60 Years of Curating at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), and was contributing editor of How Soon is Now, the ICA's 60th anniversary publication. Recent articles include 'Between Consensus and Anxiety: Curating Transparency at the ICA of the 1950s' (Journal of Curatorial Studies, 2012), ''Not another Museum': the search for contemporary connection' (Journal of Visual Culture, 2013) and 'Students, Artists and the ICA: the revolution within?' in Resurgence of the Sixties: The Continuing Relevance of the Cultural and Political Watershed (London and New York: Anthem Press, 2010).

Lucy Bayley

Lucy Bayley is currently studying a Middlesex University Studentship The ICA: A History of the Contemporary, a collaborative PhD with Middlesex University and the ICA. By drawing on its archives she will consider the legacy of its interdisciplinary programmes within twentieth century British culture. Lucy received an AHRC award for her MRes in Cultural Research with the London Consortium in 2011-2012. Previously, she was a Curator of National Programmes at the Contemporary Art Society where she worked on building UK museum collection through contemporary acquisitions. She has worked at contemporary galleries including The Drawing Room, Peer, and The Serpentine and in 2006 set up her own gallery alongside a production company in Clerkenwell, providing a platform for emerging artists.

( 1 )

Hal Foster, ‘An Archival Impulse’, October, Vol 110 (Autumn 2004) p4.

( 2 )

Hal Foster, ‘An Archival Impulse, October, Vol 110 (Autumn 2004) p21.

( 3 )

Anne Massey, The Independent Group: Modernism and Mass Culture in Britain, 1945-59, Manchester University Press, pp42-45

( 4 )

Joseph Beuys quoted in Caroline Tisdall, Joseph Beuys: We Go This Way, Violette Editions, 1998, p.114.

( 5 )

Hal Foster, ‘An Archival Impulse’, October, Vol 110 (Autumn 2004) p21.

( 6 )

Art into Society Society into Art, ICA exhibition catalogue(30 October – 24 November 1974)

( 7 )

Ibid, p.5

( 8 )

Memorandum to Members of the Council of the ICA 25 Feb 1974, written by Norman Rosenthal, Tate Archive, TGA 955/12/3/3.

( 9 )

Caroline Steadman, Dust: The Archive and Cultural History (Encounters: cultural histories), Rutgers University Press, p.2

( 10 )

see Barbara Lange, Joseph Beuys: Richkräfte, Berlin, Reimer, 1999

( 11 )

Foster 2004, p.5.

( 12 )

Jacques Derrida and Eric Prenowitz, ‘Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression,’ Diacritics, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Summer 1995), pp. 9-63.

( 13 )

Foster echoes Derrida’s discussion of the anarchival, Ibid pp. 51-51.

( 14 )

Sven Spieker, The Big Archive: art from bureaucracy, Cambridge, Mass. and London: MIT Press, pp.173-175.

( 15 )

ICA Bulletin, no.147, June 1965, p.14.

( 16 )

Mark Boyle, ‘Background to a series of events at the ICA’, ICA Bulletin, no.146, May 1965, p.6.

( 17 )

Andrew Wilson, ‘Towards an Index for Everything: The Events of Mark Boyle and Joan Hills 1963-1971’, in Boyle Family, texts by Patrick Elliott, Bill Hare and Andrew Wilson (a catalogue for the exhibition Boyle Family held at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art from 14 August to 9 November 2003), Edinburgh: The Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland, 2003, pp. 45-59, p. 48

( 18 )

Indeed, although Oh What Lovely Whore is remembered for its dramatic outcome, curator Jasia Reichardt, who organised Boyle and Hills’ events and exhibitions at the ICA in the late 60s, commented of the piece Any Play No Play (1965, Theatre Royal Stratford East) that, “the event could have been described as an essay in anticlimax – no one was happy about it except Mark Boyle, who accepted the outcome unreservedly as something that had occurred as it was meant to...To him no manifestation of life, whether provoked or not, is intrinsically boring. Boredom exists in the mind of the recipient/consumer/spectator and in his frustrated expectations, heightened by paying a sum of money at the door for which he wants to be recompensed in some way.” Jasia Riechardt, ‘On Chance and Mark Boyle’, Studio International, October 1966, pp. 164-165.