What is Activating our Archives?

Sunil Shah is the Lead Artist on Modern Art Oxford’s Activating our Archives project, which works with community groups to investigate how we present ourselves and our communities online. Below Sunil discusses the origins of the project and how he hopes it will evolve.

Activating our Archives has been developed in dialogue with Akram Zaatari’s exhibition, The Script. Zaatari’s work has taken an analogue to digital trajectory: responding to forms of cultural identification held in photographs and, more recently, finding expression through social media platforms such as YouTube.

The move towards moving image from the static photograph has created dynamism in what was more usually experienced in an optically singular way. Applying the static image to online platforms changes the viewer’s relationship to the image and its context temporally. Social media platforms today operate in a dynamic way. Algorithms, live streaming, feed scrolling, refreshing, and content expiry create experiences that are temporary, all vying for our attention. Attached to these feeds, online communities are formed, they grow or disperse, they shift their focus or they merge with other communities. They move in and out of our consciousness.

As an artist working with visual material such as photographs, documents, digital images and objects, I will explore the notion of the “digital archive” with a group of participants. Through a series of workshops and one-to-one sessions, we will consider our lives and the environments we occupy – how the ways in which we present ourselves online and the objects that constitute our daily lives can be re-purposed and re-activated as artistic expressions. Themes explored through these digital archives are ideas of what we consider private, public, individual and collective or community and where these boundaries overlap and inflect each other.

Throughout the project participants will try methods of documenting and presenting expressions of their life and experience through photography and other experimental methods of creative output. The workshops will encourage participants to look around them and record what feels important to them. Their existing skills in photography and editing, whether digital or analogue will be enhanced through the workshops and they will be given the opportunity to present themselves and their communities within an online digital space and the gallery space at Modern Art Oxford.

Read more about Activating our Archives here.

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