Archival Post: Visiting the Winifred Gill Archive

We begin in the archive.

Patterned paper reading ‘Puppet Engagements’ handwritten on patterned paper, glimpse of handwritten letter, grey archival folder

Book the appointment. Cycle across town. Put your laptop and pens into a transparent plastic bag. Root around the bottom of your rucksack for a pound coin. ‘Yes!’ Squeeze your rucksack and jacket and tote bag into the locker. Push the plastic door shut and lock it with the plastic key. Pull out your ID. The card reader can turn red or green. It beeps, and lights up green.

Through the glass gate, you climb a flight of stairs and the second reader card beeps and turns green. Through the final doorway, another reader. Green.

‘You’re at desk number 5. Your materials are on the desk.’

Blue gloved hand lifting accordian paper structure showing lips and a mouth in several parts

And then you open up the boxes.

A handmade peephole accordion object made a century ago reveals the brushstrokes and ink stains of the artist. The delicacy of the object is at the fore of your attention as you pick it up and place it through your own eye and regard the view. To touch with reverence the delicate objects of the archive. Bringing out the final box, the head archivist says, ‘I can’t let you look at the archaeological materials alone for conservation reasons. We have to look at them together.’

Old-fashioned metal tins and cardboard boxes originally containing nuts, soap, and medicine, in an archival box

You love looking at something with someone else. You put on gloves and you’re both wearing your masks. He opens the box. A Brazil nut tin and a soap box tin and other household receptacles a century old have been repurposed to hold discovered bones, fragments of a floor of a clay hut, from two millennia ago. A century, a millennium. The accordion-like nature of time.

Archival Post is an Interdisciplinary Futures network sponsored by TORCH and led by Kathleen Quaintance and Sylee Gore. Our network explores how actual archives and the idea of the archive are used by creative practitioners.