Performing the archive

Award Information

AHRC ref: AH/I004408/1 and AH/H03739X/1
Discipline: Drama & Theatre Studies
Funding opportunity: Research grant
Areas of Impact: Creative Industries; Museums and collections; Skills and capacity building; Tourism
Lead RO: University of Bristol
Region: Bristol

Research has safeguarded for the future important archives documenting live art and performance, as well as changing thinking about how archives of performance can be used, and introducing professional artists to the value and uses of on-line archiving.

The National Review of Live Art (NRLA) was one of the UK’s foremost performance festivals. Its archive is held in the University of Bristol’s Theatre collection, and consists of over 1,700 tapes in various video formats.

Two AHRC-funded strands of work within the ‘Performing the Archive’ project portfolio focussed on the conservation and accessibility of this culturally significant and unique archive.

“In developing a best-practice model for the digital preservation of this archive,” Professor Simon Jones, leader of the team explains, “We not only preserved often fragile material for the future, but also ensured that it was made accessible online through a specially-designed website, which was launched in November 2012.” Feedback on the website has been entirely positive, enriching practising artists’ understanding of live art.

Between 2008 and 2013, a series of events, workshops, exhibitions and performances were held to share the work of the team. The influence of their research has been felt regionally, nationally and internationally, benefitting practitioners, archive professionals, partner organisations and the public at large. The events programme included “Curating Artistic Research Output (CAiRO)”, which introduced many professional artists and curators to the value and uses of online archiving via a four-day summer school in 2011. Their online postgraduate teaching resource had received 1,280 visits and 68 module downloads by July 2013. 

Performing artist Richard Layzell wrote that as a result of his collaboration with the team, “My thinking has changed in relation to earlier works, and especially seeing them in their own historical context. As a result, I performed and designed a new piece, which engaged directly with video work from 1980/1, which was shown at the 30th Anniversary NRLA and Whitstable Biennale.”

There are currently almost a thousand registered users of the archive, including people from arts organizations and museums as well as freelance artists. The project has recently led to a Wellcome Trust grant to fund research into protocols for the handling and presentation of challenging and sensitive material, based on the Franko B archive, held in the Theatre Collection.

For more information on the project visit: www.bristol.ac.uk/nrla

On the Gateway to Research portal: