I completed a placement with the educational charity MayDay Rooms between April and September 2017. Located in London, this organisation houses an archive of ‘material linked to social movements, experimental culture and the radical expression of marginalised figures and groups’. It also hosts a number of resident groups that use the building, as do visitors accessing the collections or attending events there.
Beforehand, I agreed with MayDay Rooms staff that we would frame the placement as a curatorial residency. This entailed working with them and others to display materials from the archive and to organise a programme of related events. During the placement, it became clear that expanding the exhibition would be of greater value to the organisation than focusing on events programming, since staff had already begun to plan a permanent exhibition that they lacked the time to curate. I informed Steven Colburn of this change, which he agreed to at the time.
Working with staff members, resident groups, and other individuals, I selected more than thirty items from fifteen separate collections to showcase the breadth of materials in the archive. These ranged from 1930s Communist agitprop to ephemera promoting a twenty-first-century queer festival, via the traces of a 1970s pedagogical experiment in the Sculpture Department of Central St Martins College. Where it was inappropriate to display original materials for conservation reasons, I reproduced them in a variety of different formats from A4 photocopies to high-quality A2 prints. Three items were reproduced as A3 posters with a professional printer who runs a Risograph collective in the space. These included the cover of a 1970s feminist pamphlet, shown below.
To prepare the exhibition, I also laid-out, framed and mounted the materials, and researched and wrote accompanying text and captions. I typed these captions on to Bristol record cards with a manual typewriter. Alongside any aesthetic considerations, this aimed to convey how changes to communications technology leave traces in the archive, too. Postgraduate research sparked my own interest in these processes; the practical experience of maintaining and using such an obsolete device cast some light on my ongoing theoretical reflections about this subject.
The exhibition opened with a launch event at the end of September. This coincided with a symposium organised by a fellow PhD student: the theme of ‘Recording Resistance’ linking our two events together. While on placement, I also chaired a panel discussion on ‘Contemporary Workers’ Inquiries’. Following the placement, I continue to co-programme a series of film events at MayDay Rooms on workplace struggles, drawing on items in the archive that document 1970s screenings of these films by industrial militants.
I would like to express my gratitude to both my supervisors for their support, Steven Colburn for his advice and the CHASE placement board for agreeing to fund this placement. Apart from providing a welcome detour from the solitary pursuit of doctoral research, it gave me opportunities to develop creatively and to build relationships relevant to my future employment. In total, I spent £482.43 of a £500 budget for expenses.