Art ephemera, aka "Ephemeral traces of 'alternative space': the documentation of art events in London 1995-2005, in an art library"


This research is based on reflexive practice as a subject librarian for visual art, concerned with representation (of artists) and context (of art practice and its representation) in the academic library, as a heterotopia. My thesis is that the aim to create an ‘alternative’ art space remained operative in London between 1995 and 2005, although the term was decried. The research addresses the problem of documentation of transient contemporary art practices, by collecting and analysing ephemera and developing a resource based upon them. Art ephemera are by-products of institutions, galleries, exhibitions, and curatorialactivities that may be significant in terms of criticality but which are often not recorded adequately and remain un-archived. The strategies of representation that ephemera mobilise take place at an interface of art aims and social structures, an area that has been a vital site of contemporary practice. I review major issues in contemporary criticism of the ‘avant-garde’ and ‘alternative’,showing the discourse of the alternative to be an ethical discourse about practice. Identifying citation as means of interpretation, I draw my account from a reading ofephemera in the chapters: “Citation, marginalia, mockery, fakes and tailpieces” where I identify visual and textual qualities of ephemera, “Artists, spaces and institutions,”where I present the themes of mapping London and self-institutionalisation, and “Counter to ?” where I report a distancing from counter-cultural aims and development of complex alternatives. I evaluate existing collections of art ephemera in libraries, projects to facilitate access to them, and cataloguing and collecting policies. I advocate use of catalogues to recontextualise ephemera. In conclusion, I present a complex notion of ‘alternative space’ in art practice as a space for dialogue with, rather than opposition to established institutions and circuits of contemporary art and I endorse collection of ephemera as a source for diverse histories

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    This paper was published in Goldsmiths Research Online.

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