How do ideas, thoughts, presences and practices become canonised as art, or as historically important events or artefacts? This question prompted 21 researchers from the RCA MRes School of Arts and Humanities Pathway to visit Van Gogh House (VGH) in Kennington, London before the pandemic. VGH is a recently conserved terraced house in South West London where Vincent Van Gogh lived for a year between 1873 to 1874, aged 20, to work at the London branch of art dealers Coupil & Cie. The house contains archival material from his time in the UK as well as material from the entire lifespan of the house. The researchers responded by making a zine and an online exhibition for VGH’s 'sister' space San Mei Gallery. From a visit to this archive, the researchers in turn, have made work that adds to that archive asking questions of what an archive is, does or could do.
The motif of a vertical cosmos: sky, earth, underworld - was gradually secularised from the enlightenment onwards. Excavation was cast in mythological terms. Heroic journeying into the deep became a central motif of science and the humanities in the West; digging ever more deeply to recover the truth about the past. Freud used archaeology as a model in the development of psychoanalysis, and as an analogy of the mind. London is a world centre for museums, archives and collections, which are now exclusively viewed online in the midst of the current international crisis caused by COVID-19. When we think of an archive, we think of digging or excavating the past to support our understanding of the present. How might we think about the process of historical research differently? Can we find models for different futures rather than seeking ‘authenticity’ in the past? What happens if we seek radical histories, extraordinary objects or experimental models of the past?
Each researcher has made a work to be viewed online superimposed on San Mei Gallery’s floor plan. Additionally, each contributor has selected an artefact from an online archive in London or elsewhere that has acted as an intoxicant to their research, and made a response to it for the publication.
The work produced for the publication was in relation to the artefact located in the British Museum's archive. A postcard in which made its travels from Bodrum, Turkey to work colleagues in London now sits in the archives of a London Museum.
The correspondences highlight the narrative of the object as it makes its journey across the global to its final resting point locked away in a controlled environments or pinned to surfaces.
© Pui Kan 2020