Art in the archives

Barry Sykes, Artist in Residence (2013-2015), University of Bath

Colombian Printing Press (Clymer and Davies), 1839.
Colombian Printing Press (Clymer and Davies), 1839.

Barry Sykes embarks on an artistic journey around the Colombian Printing Press.

In Yor Det: Deer Lizzie, An Expreshun of Mai Sinseer Gratitood for Yor Tyme, Enerjee and Dedicayshun.

From 2013-2015 I was Artist in Residence at the University of Bath. I was hosted by ICIA (now Edge Arts) but the residency post purposely had no studio or office in order to encourage you to explore the potentials of campus. Over my time there I developed projects with the Architecture, Mechanical Engineering and Sociology departments and the Estates Office but perhaps most significantly with the University Archives via the support and guidance of Archivist and Records Manager Lizzie Richmond. My residency began with no specific area of interest, as did my conversations with Lizzie, but I was quickly drawn to the Sir Isaac Pitman Collection, his work with phonetic spelling and shorthand notation and also the collection of photos of campus from its inception to the present day that was slowly being digitised and catalogued whilst I was there. In hindsight I think I enjoyed how both were about ambitious, idiosyncratic, self-initiated projects to reshape and redefine how something immense and unwieldy is communicated more simply to others: the English language and the breadth of activities on campus - acts of subjective translation you might say. In a way Lizzie does this too in offering up the archive material, and with palpable enthusiasm and unwavering generosity. I was given hours of her time fielding my various inquiries, was piled with original prints, documents and ephemera on Pitman, and allowed to browse at length through every digitised image of campus to curate my own selection. With Lizzie's help I was also granted permission to recommission Sir Isaac Pitman's original Colombian Printing Press that stands in the Library entrance, spending one night producing a series of my own prints (pictured), that are now themselves in the University Archives. Seeing this material was a rare privilege but the openness, clarity and understanding with which it is accessed and presented was equally invaluable.

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Colombian Printing Press (Clymer and Davies), 1839.
Pitman Collection