THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

08 March 2013

'Encounters between Art and Science' an exhibition at the British Library

There is an exciting buzz in the British Library at the moment as visitors discover all the fascinating artworks that have been installed throughout the Library's public spaces. It is part of the ‘Encounters between Art and Science’ exhibition in collaboration with Central Saint Martins Art and Science MA programme. One of the artists, Aga Tamiola, chose EAP016 as the inspiration for her work and I had the very enjoyable task of asking her a few questions about her involvement with the exhibition.

  Aga standing next to one of her photographsAga and one of her photo-etchings                                                                   

Tell me a little more about the MA Art and Science course that you are doing at Central St Martins

MA Art and Science is a Fine Art course at Central St Martins investigating the creative relationships between art and science. It is the first course of this type in the UK. Students come from a variety of art and science backgrounds ranging from fine art, graphic design, cinematography to economy, linguistics and nano-engineering to name a few. As interdisciplinary artists we try to define our own voice and place at the intersection of art and science.  The majority of us would agree that we are not interested in barely illustrating science. The degree to which we refer to science varies in our individual practices. For some of us science becomes an inspiration, a starting point, often it is used to learn and push the boundaries of current artistic processes, for others it is a point of opening a discussion on values in a fast-paced technologically advancing society. This advancement happens through scientific progress but some artists on the course take time to step back and look at what is happening with a critical eye. All this can be seen at the current exhibition at the British Library ‘Encounters between Art and Science’.

 

How were you chosen to be involved in ‘Encounters between Art and Science’?

The first term of MA Art and Science is full of visits to institutions, galleries and workshops that aim at exposing students to a range of possible approaches to making and contextualising their work. One of these visits was organised by a science section at the British Library and conducted by Dr Johanna Kieniewicz. Drawing on her own expertise in geology she created a stimulating discussion on time, rocks and the universe. Apart from that we have seen original manuscripts and maps presented by the British Library curators. The whole day was exciting, thought provoking and it felt there was so much more that as artists we could take from the Library. Johanna, an artist herself, started contemplating a crazy, as it seemed at that time idea, of art and science ‘interventions’ to the Library. A few months later, I drafted an introductory proposal for the interventions with individual artists proposing their own ideas. Johanna then presented it to the science team at the British Library and it received a warm welcome.  

How did you find out about the Endangered Archives Programme and what made you chose the photographic archive of the southern Siberian indigenous peoples (EAP016)?

I am undertaking an interdisciplinary research project that focuses on the representations of endangered languages. When language transmission is broken we lose a unique knowledge of how a community perceived the world, and indeed how they perceived themselves. The artwork produced as a result of my enquiry aims to reflect these aspects of loss. Since part of my project involves an attempt to test the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, I have chosen to research two languages that evolved in similar geographical conditions on two different continents, namely the Sami spoken in northern Europe and the Eyak whose last speaker died in Alaska in 2008.

My initial turn to the British Library was to look for recordings of the languages that I investigate and I started looking at digital archives. I found the sound archive very interesting but it did not have the field-speech recordings that I was after. Once on-line I discovered the Endangered Archives Programme and it immediately resonated with my interests into heritage, culture and history. The approach to preservation and the variety of projects was fascinating. Once I looked at the digitalised archive of glass plate negatives of the southern Siberian indigenous people I noticed similarities with other people living in the Arctic Circle. It became fascinating for me to observe the way of life and the environment through these images. At this stage I approached Cathy Collins from EAP whose enthusiasm and willingness to help motivated me further. She also put me in touch with the experts: John Falconer, Lead Curator of Visual Arts at the British Library and Dr Craig Campbell who with Prof David Anderson was conducting the digitisation process in Russia.

Is photography a special area of interest?

I used to use photography as part of my research and I made one project in which I made digital projection built of individual photographs but I would not call myself a specialist photographer. I am a multi-media artist and I tune into my research questions and look for the best way to my occupation at the time. However, through this project I became especially interested in the science of traditional photography and I will explore this area further. Having consulted John Falconer who showed me original glass plate negatives kept at the British Library I had a sense of time and history and it became obvious that working with the originals kept in Krasnoiarsk is not going to be possible due to the fragility of the plates. I made then a decision of interpreting the medium and creating a series of prints in order to tell an emotive story of the people baring in mind the science of photography and the nature of the ethnographic research of the time. Jody Butterworth from EAP kindly facilitated the transfer of digitised negatives that I could work with within very tight deadlines.

How did you make your prints and how did you find the process? (What was challenging and what was enjoyable?)

‘The Story Within and Beyond’ is a series of photo-etchings. This process seemed the best way to refer to the way original glass plate negatives would be used. Etching is a traditional intaglio printmaking technique, photo-etching enables transfer of a photographic image onto a metal plate. The metal plate is coated with a photo-sensitive emulsion. Next, light is projected on the plate as a negative image in order to expose it. Then, the emulsion is washed off with water and the plate goes through a series of acid baths for the marks to be etched onto the plate. Once the plate is etched the inking can start.

 

Aga turning a massive printing wheel

It is a very unpredictable process as there are so many variables at every stage. The layer of coat can vary the length of the exposure to light, the length of acid baths. I learned the process from scratch and it was frustrating at times.  I would spend two hours prepping the plate and it would not etch properly. However, with every plate I was getting more and more control and I became experimental, so it paid off to persevere.

Making glass plate

 

There is also a lot of freedom in the way one applies ink, so from one plate one can make images of different character. I also found it quite fascinating to make evocative, delicate images through a very destructive process of engraving marks into metal by acid. The dissonance in perception of what we see and how it came about to be.

 

What is your next project?

I am working on developing more work for Vanishing Voices project and planning to make a field trip to Scandinavia this summer to spend some time with an endangered language community. I would love to learn some of traditional weaving techniques and use them in my textile paintings.

Simultaneously, I am developing a sound piece in collaboration with 7 other CSM students for the BE OPEN Sound Portal that is going to be installed at Chelsea College of Art. It is an exploration of the ‘ambisonic sound space’ with the usage of multiple channels to create a 3D audio experience.

As I always have a few creative ideas on the go I am researching the complexities of issues surrounding the HIV epidemic. It is a very broad subject and at the moment I am immersing myself into different facets of it.

You can find updates on my projects on twitter:

https://twitter.com/AgaTamiola

Encounters between Art and Science runs until Sunday 24th March

Photographs were taken by Anita Chowdry (1,2) and Becky Lyddon (3)

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