For the second instalment of our Volunteer blog post we reflect on the challenging yet fascinating work of the Archive Explorer, whose responsibility it is to run interactive and engaging tours in our new Archive gallery spaces as explained in further detail by our Archive Explorers; Ana Maria, Sara and Jane.

Portrait shot of two archive explorer volunteers, a man and woman
Archive Explorers Sara Brunori and Eric Gulikers in Site Timeline, Tate Britain

When running the Archive tours: the experience is always different. It does not matter how many times I might repeat the same stories every single tour is unique. The audience shapes the experience.

What I have found most interesting is that the archive is a never-ending source of fascinating stories. The more I research, the more I want to spread the word! At the beginning, I wondered whether I was going to be able to talk for 45 minutes. Now it has become hard for me to make the tour shorter.   
Ana Maria Blanco, Archive Explorer 

Female Archive Explorer volunteer presenting to group at Tate Britain
Archive Explorer Sara Brunori leads a tour around Site Timeline, Tate Britain

The most interesting aspect of the Archive and Access Project is the opportunity offered by Tate Britain opening its archive through specific exhibitions. It is a way to exhibit art which is usually hidden away in the archive. Maybe it is unpopular or unknown, but no less important or relevant for these reasons than well-known artworks accessible every day in the permanent exhibition that everyone can enjoy on the main floor of Tate Britain.

What I like about my work as Archive Explorer volunteer is involving people in a conversation about archive materials and telling them the stories of the objects exhibited: behind every object 

there are hidden stories about people, their relationship, ideas, point of views, love stories and conflicts; their life in the past, in others times and ages.

Sometimes, when the people hear ‘archive’, they seem suspicious or diffident, perhaps because they think that archive materials are little bit boring, or maybe they imagine something dusty, old or not current. But when the visitors attend the tours dedicated to archive materials, you can see their surprise and their interest.

Because there is another world is opening before them and they listen carefully, with their eyes so wide open…

The visitors are so curious and they ask for such detailed information, so you can expand your conversation to include other particulars and create connections between different stories, artists and art styles. That’s what I like about my job: preserving, promoting and distributing art and its stories.

Every tour through the archive galleries is a journey in the time, in our history and among different approaches of life. Visitors can sample different atmospheres, and discover and develop new ideas or new points of view. People are immersed in different times and stories and each object exhibited has a new life on every tour.
Sara Brunori, Archive Explorer

Female volunteer guide operates one of the digital screens in Tate Britain
Archive Explorer Sara Brunori leads a tour around the Digital Corridor, Tate Britain

While working as a Volunteer Tate Archive Explorer since August 2014, I have found that visitors to Tate Britain have thoroughly enjoyed the tour of the Site Timeline gallery. Hearing about the Tate Public Records, the Millbank Penitentiary in 1812, and the growth of the gallery, and the site from its beginnings has fascinated the gallery visitors. Moving through the architectural developments and social history of the building, the tour of the Site Timeline gallery seems to resonate with visitors of all ages and backgrounds.  The Tate Britain Archive Tour is full of hidden gems and has brought the history of the building alive. The Site Timeline tour allows visitors to admire the architecture of Tate Britain more fully and the main collection. The visitors on my tours have really enjoyed the breadth of the chronology of the Tate Archive exhibitions, and the Artists’ sketchbooks, press cuttings, diaries, personal and professional archive items sparked an immediate interest.

Archive Explorer in conversation with visitors in Tate Britain gallery

The gallery visitors were largely impressed by the work of the artists’ models and the famous artists they modelled for, in the exhibition entitled, Reception, Rupture and Return: The Model and the Life Room.  Life Drawing from the Nineteenth Century to the present day from the perspective of both the Artist and the Model. The three floor cases of the life models, Marita Ross, Eileen Mayo and Isabel Rawsthorne, were much admired by visitors on my tour, with the painting entitled, The Orchard, 1934 by Dod Proctor, a beautiful British Impressionist painting of the model Eileen Mayo lying in dappled sunlight in an apple orchard.  I think most of the visitors have enjoyed viewing the development of the different techniques of life drawing employed by the artists; the draughtsmanship, speed of perception, composition and tone, as the exhibition moved towards displaying the male model as the subject instead of the female model as the subject of the drawings and paintings. 

Guiding visitors around the Archive galleries is a pleasure, as well as working as part of a committed team at the launch of the Tate Britain Archive Explorer Tours.
Jane Simpson, Archive Explorer

Archive Explorer leading the group at the colourful geometric patterned Tate Britain staircase
Archive Explorer Eric Gulikers leads a tour from the top of the Manton Staircase, Tate Britain


Archive Explorer Tours run Saturday and Sunday’s 13.00 and 14.30 and are free to join, please meet at the top of the Manton Stairs at Tate Britain.

If have any questions regarding our Volunteer programme as part of the Archives & Access project then please contact Maria Kubler our Volunteer Co-ordinator.