Workshop: Creative Responses to Archival Material

On 3 October 2018, Saudade curator Natalie McIlroy and Saudade artist Janne van Gilst hosted a free educational workshop at the Stadsarchief Rotterdam (Rotterdam City Archives) with the support of Louisa Balk, Education Advisor at the archive. The workshop, titled Creative Responses to Archival Material, was attended by 6 participants with backgrounds in documentary photography, graphic design and fine art. All of the participants would be considered at an early stage in their career.

Photo by Janne van Gilst

The event was aimed at students who were interested in incorporating archival ephemera in to their practice. The main themes that were covered in the workshop were:

  • Initial engagement with an archive: how and why?
  • Development process from initial inspiration through to conceptual, creative response;
  • The politics of an archive, its hierarchy and how this can be subverted.

The feedback from the students was positive, with all of them delighted to have a more intimate point of access to archival material in the depot. They were able to touch and feel ancient papers as well as use viewing devices and open archival storage units. They also enjoyed hearing an artist talk about the journey she took from the initial overwhelming feeling of delving in to an unknown archive to narrowing her interest to the point where she was able to respond sculpturally to the data.

Photo by Natalie McIlroy
Photo by Natalie McIlroy










The yet-undiscovered potential of an archive was very visible during the tour. Louisa Balk commented that only a small  fraction of the archive is viewed after its initial acquisition. This sense of materials ‘waiting’ for further engagement, as well as the institutional and political nature of an archive in general, was inspiring for the students.

The Expatriate Archive Centre is grateful to Louisa Balk and the Stadsarchief Rotterdam for providing the venue and the opportunity to conduct the workshop, and to Natalie McIlroy and Janne van Gilst for sharing their time and expertise.