Guest Blog: Instagram & Digital Archives

The artist’s archive can be just as much a source of creative material than a product of it. As Rut Blees Luxemburg explains in her interview with Art360 Foundation, she prefers to think of the archive as an active repository: an evolving record of work and material that is in constant use.

An ever-increasing presence of the art world online is largely thanks to the migration of artists’ and galleries’ archives onto social media, as they become more active and accessible than ever before. The interactivity and spontaneity of platforms like Instagram is suited perfectly to the needs of artists working today, as they are free to share so much more than just their finished work.

From empty office lobbies to accidental sculptures and even other artists’ work (with permission!); videos, images and photographs uploaded to Instagram both intentionally and inevitably mould an artist’s visual identity as they curate their feeds into an informal but illuminating visual archive. These structured, chronological feeds have the potential to reach far more people than formal gallery exhibitions – especially for smaller and emerging artists - and despite their gridded format, allow for endless experimentation. The ability to edit, rework and play with images reflects the open and "un-precious" nature of any artist’s studio, and lifts the pressures of having to present resolved or even necessarily relevant work. Instagram provides the opportunity to bring the artist’s archive alive, and dispels the preconception of archives as dust-covered boxes and filing cabinets locked away in basements.

Artist Yuri Pattison exploits his Instagram feed to full effect, curating a visual archive of places, buildings, objects and aesthetics that inform and reflect on his own practice. While none of his exhibited work is shared here, this active image bank instantly gives followers a seductive idea of Pattison’s interests and attractions – many of which consist of ephemera and brief encounters -  and should be considered just as much an archive as his website or gallery exhibition records. His presence on social media is a great example of how artists working with new and digital media can expand their archive and audience, while at the same time interacting with the very platforms and domains that are being explored in so many contemporary practices.

Working with the Art360 Project, David Batchelor also provides an effective insight into his life and work via Instagram. His archive of images includes a range of other colourful artworks and exhibits from both modern masters and his contemporaries, as well as his own photographs of found objects and places – with a particular attraction to geometric floor tiles! What is most exciting however, is the sharing of the artist’s studio space: an insight into his working environment, featuring colour experiments, trials and sketches. They are bluntly captioned ‘studio wall’, ‘studio detail’ or ‘studio figures’ but this behind-the-scenes archive gives us an invaluable sense of Batchelor’s working process, and establishes a more intimate relationship with the artist than we might ever have had otherwise. This process is most explicit and most fun in his time-lapse videos of exhibition installation – at Matt’s Gallery, for example. A novel archiving method in its own right, sharing this video allows us to see every step of the process and engage with the work on another level. This certainly seems to work to the artist’s advantage – and incites unanimously positive and excitable comments. These studio insights remind me of Polly Morgan’s Instagram updates – sharing the gory process of her taxidermy works before they are immaculately and magically transformed. There is certainly an argument that these demystifying updates may blunt the allure and impact of the finished works – but these images are a crucial part of the artists’ working archives nonetheless.

Social media archives can be much more than just active historical repositories; they can look forwards and anticipate exciting artistic progress. The reach of networks like Instagram allows artists to create a buzz around their work before it has even reached public exhibition. Jon Rafman’s fascination with internet culture and virtual worlds particularly suits this kind of dissemination, and was used to great effect for his Dream Journal video series among other works. Alongside a number of ‘work in progress’ posts of digital models and plans, by leaking excerpts of his extended video work intended for gallery installation, Rafman constructs a future archive of his work that both introduces and documents his practice. Thanks to the length and nonlinear nature of the video, these excerpts take little away from the experience of the installation itself (for those able to see it), while giving millions of other people an opportunity to see his work online. It seems there is no reason why an artist’s archive must be restricted to the past and present. The ability to instantly share work with so many people gives artists complete control over their material and the way it is received by audiences.

It is clear that social media has offered a new and exciting way for artists to explore the possibilities of a digital archive. Bringing together the ephemeral, material, visual and abstract, curated feeds on Instagram act as repositories that can record, reveal and anticipate both new and old artworks in a way that no physical archive ever could. There is no doubt that the digital archive is a hugely underestimated tool, and we should celebrate and exploit its potential for artists and audiences alike.

Harry Coday


Studio Visit: Rose English

One of the joys of working on the Art360 Project is visiting artists’ studios. Each studio space has a personality of its own and, through its order and display, contains traces of the artistic life of its owner. These private spaces, which are rooted in thought and creation, carry with them a magnetic quality tied to the artist.

We are excited to share our experiences from Art360 artists’ studios, and hope you enjoy a brief glimpse into the archive of performance artist Rose English.

 Works from the archive, the studio of Rose English

Works from the archive, the studio of Rose English

 Rose English, Moustache and beard worn in ‘Tantamount Esperance’, 1994

Rose English, Moustache and beard worn in ‘Tantamount Esperance’, 1994

Rose English’s studio is framed, floor to ceiling, by a lofty shelf stacked with neat folders and boxes with labels such as ‘My Mathematics’ and ‘Giant Eyelashes’, with several items stating ‘FRAGILE’. Knowing that English often works with glass, I am particularly wary of these!

As it transpires, glass has been a central component of English’s performances. The acute composure and precision executed by a troupe of Chinese acrobats in ‘A Premonition of the Act’, choreographed by Rose English and shown at Camden Arts Centre in 2016, underlines the artist’s fascination with the relationship between people and objects. During this performance, acrobats balance trays of filigree glass on the soles of their feet, the palms of their hands and even the bridge of their nose. It’s an impressive feat and I am lucky to see some examples of English’s glasswork displayed amongst an array of props and performance images that gesture towards the baroque.

 Rose English, Giant Lashes worn in ‘My Mathematics’, 1992

Rose English, Giant Lashes worn in ‘My Mathematics’, 1992

 Rose English, photograph of ‘Quadrille’, 1975

Rose English, photograph of ‘Quadrille’, 1975

Positioned on the table at the centre of the studio are a series of props which capture the humour and vivacity with which English performs. I am immediately fixated on the iconic giant eyelashes displayed in their open silk box which were worn by Rose English’s persona ‘Rosita Clavel’ in the performance monologue ‘My Mathematics’ (1992). Not too far away an enormous pair of rusting scissors sit ominously, and I am told they were used mid-performance by a chosen audience member to trim English’s elongated lashes. It is surprising to discover that the eyelashes are extremely light, and English explains her close collaboration with costume designers in the realisation of nuanced personas.

Trajectories of thought can be drawn together through English’s archive. From the intricate eyelashes shaped like miniature riding crops, to the framed photograph capturing a moment from the dressage performance enacted by dancers, ‘Quadrille’ (1975, 2013). The elegance and control of the horse, like the absolute composure of the acrobats’ form, comments on the language of the body. English’s captivation with the equestrian figure resonates throughout her archive.

We look at a photograph dated 1890 in the artist’s monograph ‘Abstract Vaudeville: The Work of Rose English’ of Argentinian equestrienne, Rosita de la Plata, standing proudly beside her horse. English shows me an example of a storyboard she has created, the visual evolution of the persona. At the centre of a selection of images and texts sits this same Rosita de la Plata and the source of ‘Rosita Clavel’ becomes clear. As I look around the studio my eye latches on to a multiplicity of textures and media, the skirt made of magnolia leaves worn in Berlin (1976), the staged portrait of English and her horse standing mid-air (this effect was achieved without Photoshop!), the fur muff, the moustache, the gold pipe. Through these fragments of identity Rose English’s performances can be reimagined and the ephemeral moment preserved.

In our forthcoming film of Rose English in her studio, the artist describes the archive as containing the vestige of the idea that leads to the ephemeral act of performance. Through the layers of material in the archive: the notebooks, transcriptions of monologues, photographs, film documentation and costumes, English’s performance obtains a new vitality. Her archive is more than a repository, it is active with stories, influences and collaborations that provoke thought and inspire humour.

The materials housed in Rose English’s studio underline the importance of the archive in telling the full and brilliant story of British art for present and future audiences, we hope you’ll agree!

Art360 Foundation

Our Foundation is changing

We’re excited to announce to you that we are now known as Art360 Foundation.

Over the last three years, we have carried out a strong public programme and provided much needed support for many artists from diverse practices and backgrounds. The Art360 Project has become synonymous with our work, and so we have decided to incorporate ‘Art360’ into the organisation’s name. Our remit to provide practical support and advice to artists and estates from different generations and with diverse practices will remain the same, but you will soon start to see our new name appear in official communications, and will notice a fresh new look across our website, social media channels and emails. 

As an independent charity, we are committed to engaging public audiences to stimulate greater understanding and appreciation of modern and contemporary art, through a dynamic programme of exhibitions, research, films, workshops and events.

In 2018, we look towards organising a new series of public events and workshops, and raising new funds to be able to open the next round of Open Submissions for the Art360 Project. We depend on the generosity of individuals, trusts and foundations, public funders and businesses to continue our work, so don’t forget to visit our Support Us page to find out how you can get involved. 

Art360 Foundation