Historical documents inspire artists' book

Can you think of creative ways of using archives?

Last year the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre opened up their archives for artists to explore as part of their Story Box project. The participants were invited to respond to one or more of sixteen documents selected by the staff for their social or personal significance. These included parish maps, sixteenth and seventeenth-century letters, illuminated rolls, records of court sessions and school log books.

The artists were required to create their response through deliberate and considered mark making in 2B pencil, with each pencil mark containing a reference to the consumption of time. In the words of the lead artist Julie Smith:

The artists have fully engaged with the objects, showing real commitment and a highly personal response. Their exploration looks at the tension between history and the present; between the origin of meaning within the intention of the author and the power of the reader to unmake, redefine and interpret shapes and scratches of the past into something new that speaks to the living world.  

It was not only the stories told by the chosen items that inspired the artists, but also the physical condition and appearance of the documents themselves - their shapes, textures, curled edges, creases and folds. The project resulted in an artist-made book that bound together a selection of the individual artists’ drawings. A copy of the book, The Semantic Archive, can be seen here.