Student ideas

Great attendance and some fabulous (and useful) discussion from the 26 Nov workshop. Currently in talks with the John Rylands Library about the development of a series of events connecting the slide collections and the visual resources of the Rylands – so watch this space!

Below notes are taken from the undergrad student suggestions and ideas for possible uses of the slide collection …….


Slides should be considered art objects in their own right

The narratives behind their collections and creation (individual collectors// the archivists and librarians over the years)

The collection as a whole like a Duchampian “Boit-en-Valise” – art history in a miniaturised and collected form

A discussion of ‘old’ versus ‘new’ technology (i.e. Analogue vs Digital – being hotly debated within archival, artistic and technology circles)

Who decides? Why should the two be placed in opposition, rather being used alongside each other?

The materiality of the slides are particularly interesting and intriguing for the students – physicality and touch; process of image/ slide making, marking and projection; art in miniature form; theme of reproduction and art.

A generation of young students have little knowledge or engagement with older analogue technologies, but are still excited by the thought of using them – discovery and play.

A lack of restriction with older/ analogue technologies?: Is new technology liberating? E.g. the limitations of digital photography and software; the generic images produced by phone apps (instagram etc); the lack of physical interaction and process – analogue not just about the final outcome.

Linking to nostalgia and personal memory of experiences with photographs and slides: connections to memories of childhood/ familial uses of slides/pics/ camera clubs etc

Would be better if the collection had its own space – the library not really suitable, as students feel they can’t access them without disturbing other students in the library; a separate space would also allow for other equipment/ archive material to be accessible alongside the collection

Appearance of the grey filing cabinets can be off-putting: uninviting, overwhelming, ‘adult’ off limits collection; a lack of encouragement to engage with them

“Forbidden” adult objects: the authority of collections/ history & heritage – sometimes difficult for students to feel comfortable with these things to begin with

Student involvement: third years could be recruited to act as intern(s) for the collection, which would offer a work experience project for their CVs; first year students would each be assigned a drawer at the start of the year, and this would be the basis for a project contributing to their skills development and first-year marks

A second year module: A course module looking specifically at analogue vs digital technologies, and the significance this poses for art history and visual studies [also connects into other technologies, such as music and sound], photographic studies, and visual archives and collections. Links could be made with the John Rylands Special Collections, and with their photographic and image capture team. Links also to be made with the Visual Resources collection at Manchester School of Art, MMU, and with the Women’s Art Library, Goldsmiths, London. Also use slides to explore topics not usually considered. E.g. Nazi exhibitions of ‘degenerate’ art

Ideas for project(s):

Project// activity with uncategorised “spare” slides: consider how slides should/ can be categorised and grouped; what should be kept or discarded ….

 Stories and narratives connected to the collectors/ photographers

 Outreach – take them to other sites: schools, churches/ galleries/ outdoor spaces for one-off engagement events

 Writers/ artists/ musicians to respond to the collection

Exhibition: Themed projections of slides// projection of old exhibition views (from Museum drawers)// the close view slides which fragment paintings// project on the outside of buildings and spaces, e.g. car parks, supermarkets, boarded-up housing// display with light boxes

Exhibition broken into themed areas to address areas discussed above; feeds into wider discussion of art vs craft which mirrors digital vs analogue debate. Link to outreach/ PE activity – groups to bring in their own slide collection(s)

A docu-art film: reel of slides, combined with interviews with slide curators and other users of slides (ie. domestic users)



A spanner in the works …..

To give you some starting stats: the Art History & Visual Studies slide collection consists of approximately 55 slide cabinets containing approximately 160, 000 slides.

Currently underused and (very nearly) obsolete due to ‘technology updates’, the department has been wrangling over what to do with the slide collection for some years – coming to a head in the past 6 months or so. Of course we are all lining ourselves up on one side or another of the debate. The AHVS & Archaeology library, the current location for the collection, requires urgent refurbishment, and there is a desperate lack of study space. In our former building the slide collection was housed in its own room, but now the slide cabinets are taking up vital study areas. Given the slides are, for the large part, not used within teaching perhaps it is time we dispose of such a large and cumbersome – and some would argue, unnecessary – object. After all, we have ‘Google’ and various online portals which offer digitised imagery. This is one side of the argument.

However, the opposing argument is one which applies to all gallery, museum, library, and university collections: the majority of the content contained within any collection generally lays unused until some form of intervention – an exhibition, an education project, a lone and wandering researcher, an artist or writer. 99% of the Manchester Museum’s collection remains in storage – this is the nature of the ‘collection’ and ‘archive’ beast. There is simply never enough space nor methods by which to exhibit all items and ephemera.  There are various circling debates surrounding ‘access’ to such hidden materials.

To argue, then, that an archive is obsolete or unnecessary simply because it is not in permanent use seems rather short sighted. What, exactly, is a collection or archive for? How best can they be put into use?

The AHVS slide collection has been built up over a 15-20 year period by existing and emeritus staff. Many of the slides archive objects, artworks, spaces, architecture and exhibitions which cannot be found through a general online ‘Google’ search, nor are they likely to be found in easy-to-hand publications. Granted, other slides are simply reproductions of images taken from books prior to the availability of digitised imagery.

To my mind the slide collection presents a new learning opportunity. Google and other such portals are only as helpful as the prior knowledge typed into the search engine box; an archive or collection offers new topics, themes, images which students and researchers may never have considered. Plus, the very nature of image capturing does have its own history – the slide collection is part of the history of AHVS methods and research, something which students may never be made aware of if we choose to substitute all ‘old’ technologies with ‘new’ technologies simply because it saves a few square foot of space.

So, I’ve thrown a spanner into the works – as a researcher and writer I’ve argued I don’t want to see the slide collection dismantled and thrown into the skip. But don’t get me wrong, this isn’t sentimental materiality. I will have to identify those slides which may no longer be of use (whatever that term comes to mean).