As an archivist, I am used to coming across things that have survived by chance. When cataloguing a person’s papers, I often come across unexpected objects, or things that were not deliberately kept and may well just have been forgotten about - a letter tucked into a book, or fallen behind a filing cabinet, for example. In many ways, these items from 1999 are all a lucky survival. They were given to Tate Archive by the artist Michael Landy, who famously destroyed all of his possessions as part of his 2001 work Breakdown. Had these papers not come to the Archive, they too would have been destroyed. We are fortunate that these papers survived. They all relate to Landy’s work Scrapheap Services (1995), which was acquired by Tate in 1997. The collection provides a wealth of information on how Landy conceived Scrapheap Services, how his ideas were changed and refined as he worked on the project, and how it was constructed. Amongst the papers are drawings and notes by Landy, pieces of source material, and photographs showing the work under construction. This is a good example of the ways in which the Archive can support a work in the Tate Collection. This collection is a good reminder that there are contemporary items in the Archive. We also hold material from the artist-run gallery BANK and from the gallerist Joshua Compston, both of whom held notable exhibitions in the 1990s. You can view items from the Michael Landy collection in the 40 Degrees of Separation display at Tate Britain, which includes many other items from the Archive (until 13 February 2011). I often wonder, when looking through an archive, what its original owners would think if they could see us looking through their material now.
What would you like to survive from your own records, and would you be happy for other people to see it?
Written by John Langdon