Curation and the archive
: entanglements of discourse and practice

  • Elizabeth Anne Bruchet

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Curatorial practices have been subject to heightened levels of visibility and inquiry in recent decades. Concurrently, cultural commentators have noted a creative, scholarly and cultural turn toward the archive. The archive now represents at once a
potential site, resource, subject and metaphor for curation. In parallel, shifting intellectual, social, economic, technological and professional conditions have generated new opportunities and imperatives for engagement between curatorial practices and archives. However, despite the prevalence of archive-related curatorial activities taking place across a broad range of cultural areas, the nature of these practices – and the discursive frameworks and conditions that underpin them – remain under-examined. Previous analysis of this area has relied on disciplinespecific approaches, privileging certain definitions, contexts or forms of practice, and particular subject positions and curatorial outcomes.

This study counteracts this trajectory by analysing ideas of archives and curatorial practices across different discourses and fields of activity, including archival and curatorial practices, museum studies, history, art history, contemporary art, cultural studies, anthropology, philosophy and digital humanities. Three projects curated or co-curated by the author provided an initial
springboard for the research, prompting reflection on the dynamics between vulnerability, opportunity and responsibility that arise when working with archives in a curatorial capacity. Expanding outward from this, the study takes a ‘bricolage’ approach that draws on both discourse and practice theories. It
addresses first how archives are conceptualised and used both inside and outside of the archive profession. Second, it examines these ideas in relation to curatorial discourses as they operate across three areas of practice: curatorship (working under the logic of the museum), curating (under the logic of the temporary
exhibition), and the curatorial (under the logic of the curatorial project, platform or resource). By comparing and contrasting discourses through this tripartite model of curation, the research shows how each of these curatorial orientations engages ideas of the archive in different but overlapping ways. It demonstrates
how a number of interconnected intellectual, socio-political and technological changes in how information is generated and mediated have further diffused and elaborated curatorial and archival practices in ways that deepen their entanglement. Reading across different discursive areas, the research brings
together previously unexamined correspondences and configurations. Key presuppositions, terms of practice, areas of negotiation and tension that condition curatorial handling of the archival are also illuminated. The study provides a wide and rigorous overview, analysis and structural modelling of curatorial
practices in relationship to the archive.
Date of AwardJul 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorSue Breakell (Supervisor), Catherine Moriarty (Supervisor) & Annebella Pollen (Supervisor)

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