Curated Selection Prize 2014: The Artists' Archive curated by Anneka French

Anna Keleher, Interviews with Fungi, 2009

Anneka French, the second of our three Curated Selection Prizewinners for 2014, presents a selection of work from the directory which investigates archiving, and becomes an archive in itself

Selected artists:

Elly Clarke, John Plowman, Hyewon Kwon,
Anna Keleher, Duncan Mountford, Annie Ward

Axisweb is a growing archive for the contemporary. As such, it is a mutable, liquid archive simultaneously of the past, present and future: a systematically ordered, searchable index for contemporary art practice authored by many voices.

This curated selection forms a new archive that engages with the theme via found objects, installation, books, voices (or silenced voices) and video. The artworks are rooted in this archival sensibility, drawing upon ideas of collection, storage, document, memory, testimony, truth and the fictive.

Each artist's work engages with the production of knowledge and its dissemination, ultimately shaping history through the narratives that are included, occluded or excluded from the archive, much like the curatorial act of selection and assemblage. Ranging from highly personal to more communal and universal archives, the six works have themselves become digitally fixed and preserved in time and space. ‘The Artists' Archive’ is an archive within an archive within an archive.

  • Elly Clarke

    Elly Clarke, Half Crowns in their Petticoats, for 'Thrift Radiates Happiness' at Birmingham Municipal Bank, 2013

    Half Crowns in their Petticoats, for 'Thrift Radiates Happiness' at Birmingham Municipal Bank, 2013

    Clarke’s practice is rooted within the research, collection and dissemination of data. In this work, she interviewed seventeen former employees of the Birmingham Municipal Bank, presenting fragments from her assembled oral history archive through headphones. Many of these audio recordings were made within the bank and, significantly, the work was also displayed in the site to which it relates. This self-reflexive project therefore set up multiple narratives and dialogues for the audience to explore privately within this public setting. Skilfully drawing together traces of the empty building’s past, present and future lives, this archive plays an important role in the preservation of the city’s near-lost social history.  

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  • Anna Keleher

    Anna Keleher, Interviews with Fungi, 2009

    Interviews with Fungi, 2009

    Keleher’s humorous and experimental research seeks to build an imagined archive of interviews giving voice to otherwise mute forms. In several series of silent interviews with the ‘things’ of the world, she collects information from fungi rooted within national parks in England and Poland. Her exploration of fragile ecosystems seems to be at odds with the use of oral history archive techniques. This contrast builds a new dialogue. The wit and playfulness of Keleher’s work, however, belies more serious questions about the role of the individual or a minority within a networked system, complex issues around communication and meaning, and the idea of archive-building as giving voice to those that are overlooked.

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  • Duncan Mountford

    Duncan Mountford, Drawing, 2000

    Drawing, 2000

    The use of the vitrine in this installation highlights Mountford’s preoccupation with the presentation and preservation of knowledge. The artist’s research into empty museum and archive sites is depicted in a book of small drawings. Using the very language of museum and archival display (red fabric, spotlights, a Perspex stand and plinth) to present such notions paints a somewhat bleak, if poetic, picture of their future. Tentatively or uncertainly looking toward the museum and the archive as sites of ruin, loss and decay, Mountford investigates the artist’s engagement with such institutions in a world which has been transformed irrevocably by digital technologies. 

    View Duncan Mountford's profile
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Anneka French, May 2014


About Anneka French

Anneka FrenchAnneka  is currently studying for an MA in History of Art and Design at Birmingham City University. Here she tells us more about her course, her career and ambitions for the future.

Tell us about your background

My BA was in Fine Art and after graduating I started curating independently and working in the curatorial departments of a number of galleries including Tate Modern, The New Art Gallery Walsall and Wolverhampton Art Gallery. Alongside this, I wrote essays and reviews for artist-led publications, and then began to write more regularly for this is tomorrow and Photomonitor publications, with a focus on art in the West Midlands, my home region.

Why did you embark on your MA?
To learn new skills, refine my research interests and have a period of time to focus on my own development. I also wanted to connect more with people in my hometown who are engaged in art and who are proactive in making things happen.

Why did you choose your MA course?

The unique thing about my MA course is that it is part of the Art Based Masters Programme, a suite of nine interrelated courses based in the School of Art. This means I have the opportunity to study the History of Art and Design alongside students studying Fine Art, Art and Design, Contemporary Curatorial Practice, Arts and Project Management, Arts Media and Philosophy, Queer Studies and Arts and Education. As the programme is integrated, my learning draws on a range of option modules, which has provided me with an open and multi-layered educational experience, one I have tailored to suit my own interests in art history, curating and art criticism.

How did you come up with the theme of your Curated Selection?
I’ve been researching archives in relation to artistic practice on my course. It occurred to me that Axisweb is a kind of living archive of artists and their works, and I felt there was scope to make an interesting curated selection in quite a self-reflexive way around this theme.

What first caught your eye about the work you selected? 

I loved the humour of Anna Keleher’s work as it took a completely different kind of approach to the formation of the archive, in this case revealing it as fictional construct. I saw and heard Elly Clarke’s work last year and really enjoyed the intimacy of the site-specific recordings, and I’ve followed John Plowman’s work for a number of years after he taught me during my BA. The delicacy of material and lightness of touch in Annie Ward’s work spoke about the fragility of the archive for me. Her appropriation of institutional critique can also be seen in Duncan Mountford’s quite bleak work, and I felt it was important to engage with the politics of the archive and how this often becomes material to be edited, an idea powerfully presented here in Hyewon Kwon’s piece.

What do you think the role of the curator is?
The curator’s role, for me, is to facilitate the encounter or viewing experience between artwork and audience, trying to keep this dialogue open and collaborative, while juggling plates and tying ends together.

What has winning the Curated Selection Prize meant to you?
I was thrilled to have won the prize, and delighted that I can share my curatorial ideas and writing with a wider audience. I’m really pleased to be able to showcase some work by great artists and to support my MA course too.

Who have you got your eye on at the moment?
I’m really interested in a performance artist called Heather Cassils. I’ve been writing a lot about her very powerful and visceral work after I saw her piece ‘Becoming an Image’ at Fierce Festival in Birmingham last year. The work intertwines issues connected to the patriarchy of art history, identity, the gaze, queer theory, feminism, and the temporal and liquid natures of performance, photography and the body.

What are you planning to do once you complete your MA?
I’m considering PhD study here since the School of Art has a fantastic research centre and great opportunities. I hope to continue my independent written and curatorial practice, my lecturing work, and would like to get back into gallery curating in the West Midlands.


View Anneka's Axisweb profile >


About the Curated Selection Prize 2014

Earlier this year, we asked MA Curating, History of Art and Critical Writing students from across the country to enter our Curated Selection Prize. The brief was to take a look at the Axisweb directory and curate an online exhibition for the website. To enter they had to select a theme, find six art works connected to that theme and write up their choice for our features section.

The three winners are:

Denise Courcoux
MA Art Gallery & Museum Studies, University of Manchester

Laura Dennis
MA Curation, Norwich University of the Arts (NUA)

Anneka French
MA History of Art and Design, Birmingham City University

They have been awarded £300, one year’s Art Professional Membership and their selection will be published on Axisweb. 


Related content on Axisweb

Curated Selection Prize 2014: Synthetic Landscapes curated by Laura Dennis >

Curated Selection Prize 2014: Possessed curated Denise Courcoux >

Previous Curated Selections >

More about the Curated Selection Prize 2014 >

Browse the directory to curate your own selection >