06   Knowing Copy
The Glasgow School of Art [1]

Ted Odling taught at Glasgow School of Art (GSA) from 1949 to 1981 and, following a research trip to art schools across Europe, he established Section V in 1965 as an experimental first year course. Section V encouraged students to question fundamental assumptions about making by challenging the faculties of perception as a means of understanding.

A recorded conversation in May 2015 with Noelle Odling (daughter of Ted Odling), and the materials she brought with her, elucidate some of the ‘archival silences’ [2] that existed within the GSA Archive. These materials form the basis of a series of workshops, writings, conversations and failed attempts at making that inspired our collaboration.

Ted Odling’s personal archive, now integrated into the GSA collection, consists of lecture notes, notebooks, correspondence and teaching aids from his time as a lecturer at the School, and particularly relates to Section V, which he ran from 1965 until the mid 1970s. This course, which for the most part had been forgotten about, came to light during the New Wave: Materials, Methods and Media, Glasgow School of Art 1970-1986 [3] research project. Through the documents and ephemera kept by Odling, new oral histories were traced, bridging some of the historic ‘silences’ that had fallen between fragments of data.

Initially, we were interested in how these materials and recordings could be used in a workshop context by reinterpreting some of Odling’s original exercises through a process of active embodied research. This would offer an experiential meaning, however abstracted,to our understanding of the material. Under this premise we ran a series of workshops, generating new records and documents, which folded back into the archive and echoed Jacques Derrida’s notion that, ‘archivization produces as much as it records the event’. [4] The collection of fragments amassed over the course of our project—which at the time of writing has stretched over a year—includes research materials, youtube videos, original archival documents, writing, failed experiments, and the outcomes of two workshops.

The invitation from MAP thus presented us with a question. How could we work with the Section V material in a way that wouldn’t falsely impose a singular or authoritative narrative, but would instead embody the fragmentary nature of our material, and the processes of working with archival material itself? We were interested in developing a strategy for presenting our material in a way that would enable multiple threads, narratives, and discourses to be pursued not as a singular account but as a constellation of contingent readings.

In ‘Archival Genres: Gathering Texts and Reading Spaces’, writer and cultural activist Kate Eichhorn describes the interstitial archival space of the web as a site in which‘readers and writers are permitted to dwell amongst documentary remains, crafting new narratives and new genres’. [5] As an archival structure, the website offers a temporal disjuncture in which past events activate and inflect current circumstances. As such, we were interested in the auto-distributive potential of websites—simultaneously acting as a repository and a site of public distribution and circulation. Like the archive, the website is also a space governed by a particular order that requires and produces specific behaviours and negotiations.

Developed by designer Neil McGuire, Unknown Outcomes is a meditation on the role of systems in structuring and legitimising information and knowledge. Tagging is commonly used within information systems as a tool to aid searching, allowing the user to navigate a database in relation to their query, interest, or concern. These systems are developed around a logic of retrieval—algorithmic principles are developed in order to match user interests to the ‘best’ information available in relation to their search. Unknown Outcomes investigates how these systems of retrieval are in opposition to our experiences of working with the previously uncatalogued Section V material—thematerial did not it reveal itself upon request as an answer to a query, nor did it submit to our interests. The Section V material required that we acknowledge our means of questioning, searching, and finding as highly subjective value laden acts.

As vast projects to digitise archival collections frame these materials within a web-based logic of retrieval, we wonder what forms of searching are lost in this process. If effective tagging metadata relies on descriptions that most literally, prosaically or ‘best’ describe the content in order to ensure and extend its chances of being relevant then it simultaneously defines ‘best’ as that which is universal, generic, ubiquitous. The content of Unknown Outcomes is not tagged in any useful way—our taxonomy eschews the efficiency of descriptions that ‘best’ reflect our content in favour of descriptions that speak to the associative and lateral connections we make when attempting to make meaning.

Unknown Outcomes is available at www.unknownoutcomes.org.

Debi Banerjee is an artist and researcher based in Edinburgh. Her interests include workshops, participatory practice and the history of art school education. She was Researcher for ‘New Wave: Materials, Methods and Media, Glasgow School of Art 1965-1985’. She works as a Tutor at Glasgow School of Art. She is currently the Curator for Learning at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop.

Kirsty Hendry is an artist based in Glasgow interested in the relationships between technology and the production of subjectivity. Through her work she explores the politics of image production and proliferation, underlining their relationship to networked information technologies through moving image, writing, and publishing projects.

Neil McGuire is a designer who works on a range of activities including; graphic design commissions, art projects, events, learning and teaching, and exhibition curation. He is a net contributor to the Internet.

[1] DC 090 Records relating to Ted Odling, The Glasgow School of Art Archives and Collections http://www.gsaarchives.net/archon/?p=collections/controlcard&id=509

[2] A term used by Alexander, B. (2006) ‘Excluding Archival Silences: Oral History and Historical Absence’. In Archival Science to describe how the Yaddo (a retreat for artists located in Saratoga Springs, New York.) records, Alexander was researching highlighted gaps or ‘historical silences’ which were later filled by oral histories.

[3] Banerjee, D. (2015) New Wave: Materials, Method and Media 1970-1986. This project culminated in an exhibition, workshop, and series of podcasts. https://gsaarchiveprojects.wordpress.com/portfolio/new-wave-materials-methods-and-media-glasgow-school-of-art-1970-1988/ (Accessed November 2016)

[4] Derrida, J (1995) ‘Archive Fever A Freudian Impression’ translated Eric Prenowitz, Chicago: The Chicago University Press, p.17

[5] Eichhorn, Kate (2008) ‘Gathering Texts and Reading Spaces’, Invisible Culture, issue 12, p.8