Art from the Archive

Prior, David (2013) Art from the Archive. In: Sensuous Knowledge, 23 - 25 January 2013, Bergen, Norway.

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Abstract / Summary

In this paper I explore the unique contribution oral testimonies have made to contemporary historiography and touch on the significance sound recording has had on various areas of ethnography and our historical understanding. My primary focus however, lies not in outlining the significance of first-hand testimony narratives or in the notion of the sound recording as a historical artifact but rather, I concentrate on what it is to approach these materials – and sometimes instigate their collection – not as a historian but as an artist and as a composer.

As a primary case study, I use a recent sound piece that I created for a former tin mind that combines recorded spoken testimony, use of oral history archives and field recordings, in the creation of a fixed media, multi-channel sound work that treads a delicate line between documentary and soundscape composition. Reference is also made to other work that either draws on similar sound materials, explores similar aesthetic or formal territory or grapples with some of the same ethical dilemmas as my own work does. Examples of this include Glenn Gould’s seminal Solitude Trilogy, Ewan McColl’s Radio Ballads and more contemporaneously, John Wynne’s Hearing Voices.

The paper asks: when working with sounds constituted by their originators as historical artifacts, what is the role of an artist in working with materials often considered to be the primary domain of the historian or documentarist? What is it, upon the topography of knowledge that the artist can uniquely contribute? What knowledge can we impart that is truly idiomatic to the process of thinking and making as arts practitioners? From these questions emerge a subset of themes pertaining to the formal, aesthetic, ethical and technical dimensions of working with sounds that carry narrative meaning, that to some extent represent the identities of people speaking and that lay some claim to an authentic rendering of history.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Depositing User: David Prior
Date Deposited: 06 Dec 2013 14:20
Last Modified: 03 Mar 2014 14:43
URI: http://repository.falmouth.ac.uk/id/eprint/145

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