30 September, 2019: Notes on the Tate Archive

Sekula: Central Artefact of [Bertillion’s] archive is the filing cabinet, not the photograph.

Archive as a body of literature independent of the objects inside it. All the descriptions, titles (written by archivists, not artists), but also categories, access status, reference numbers and so on.

Tate Archive contains different collections:

  • TG - Tate Public Records
  • TGA - Tate Archive Collections
  • TAM - Tate Archive Collections on Microfiche
  • TAP - Posters Collection

Microfilm Lasts Half a Millennium in the Atlantic

The search function has boolean logic: Heading must contain (term A AND term B) or (term C). Archive arithmetic.

There is a big long list of uncatalogued items. Must be hundreds, of not thousands of boxes. http://archive.tate.org.uk/TateArchiveUncatCollList.pdf

Things are organised on different levels:

  • Fonds: the top-level record which gives an overview of the contents of a collection
  • Sub-Fonds
  • Series
  • Sub-Series
  • File
  • Item: record containing information about one or more specific items
  • Singleitem: a record describing a collection which only contains a single item

Found some kind of test item at http://archive.tate.org.uk/DServe/dserve.exe?dsqServer=tdc-calm&dsqIni=Dserve.ini&dsqApp=Archive&dsqCmd=Show.tcl&dsqDb=Catalog&dsqPos=0&dsqSearch=%28%28%28text%29%3D%27*%27%29AND%28Level%3D%27Piece%27%29%29

A search for ‘test’ gives a few more of these. There doesn’t seem to be a way to link to a search results page.

The website runs on something called DServe, which seems discontinued. Used to be made by Axiell. https://www.axiell.com/uk/solutions/archiving-software/

They sell all kinds of stuff for libraries and museums, including things like post-it notes.


  • 720 Fonds (Collections)
  • 53 Sub-Fonds
  • 2225 Series
  • 4331 Sub-Series
  • 25983 Files
  • 92720 Items
  • 1636 SingleItems
  • 192 Pieces

The photographic collection (TGA) has images of all kinds of exhibitions, including random people’s private collections. http://archive.tate.org.uk/tgaphotolists/TGAPHOTO7PrivateAndCorporateCollections.pdf

Some documentation on the digitisation process: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/archive/archives-access-toolkit

Empty pages: Stuff that gets archived kind of by accident. Things between the historically important stuff.

Francis Bacon drawing that’s almost nothing. https://www.tate.org.uk/art/archive/items/tga-9810-4/bacon-incomplete-letter-with-drawn-lines

  • “Incomplete letter with drawn lines”
  • “Extract from unidentified boxing magazine with photograph of Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney”
  • “Page of text”
  • “the page is black except for undistinguishable ink mark”

People wrote so many letters back in the day – are we keeping artists’ emails now?

Looks like things are kept in thr arrangement in which they’re acquired (Collections). So, for instance, TGA 871 has some stuff from JMW Turner’s studio, but also letters from the 1960s and someone’s MA dissertation. Even when a collection comes directly from an artist, it often contains ephemera, letters from other people, reproductions of work, newspaper clippings and such. A collection of collections of collections.

  • TGA 898/1/1

[see also Manovich re: re-arranging of pre-existing cultural material]

  • Blank Pages
  • Front of postcards

The images have titles and other meta information in the EXIF fields. Digital image: more than just a visual record, has metadata baked right into it.

Who picks the featured images? I guess some of the goal here is to generate engagement (that’s also what the process writing talks about).

Archive items are tied in / cross-referenced with other Tate data structures: Artists, finished works (which appear to live in a separate database, interesting where the distinctino lies there), “Features” (which are articles), and related artists (chosen by who knows what algorithm), tags.

Some things have lost all their context:

  • TGA 779/8/94: Photograph of an unidentified man (1920-1960)
  • TGA 779/8/111: Photograph of an unidentified building (1920-1960)

Everything has different licensing attached to it. Every item wound up in countless systems, paper trails

2 October, 2019

Records Continuum Records Continuum Model after Upward.