Oral history gives arts projects an afterlife - Museums Association

Oral history gives arts projects an afterlife

Oral history is well established in museums, but is also becoming increasingly important in the arts. The most high-profile example …
Verusca Calabria
Oral history is well established in museums, but is also becoming increasingly important in the arts. The most high-profile example is sculptor Antony Gormley’s One and Other project, which took place over 100 days and nights last summer.

The live art event saw 2,400 people occupy the fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square for 60 minutes each.

The One and Other Oral History collection, which has been funded by the Wellcome Trust, was a challenging and ambitious project to record interviews with the 2,400 “plinthers”.

Similar to the early work of the Mass Observation project, which started in 1937 and collected material about everyday life in Britain, the interviews form an important part of British culture.

They are a fleeting window onto the nation’s understanding of itself and its well-being, preserved for future contemplation, study and celebration.

This material will provide a long-term resource that focuses on the individual and their choices of self-representation and identity as well as their aspirations, fears and hopes.

The archive will be an extremely unusual and rich source of material for a wide variety of future researchers and public programmers to draw on for future academic multidisciplinary investigations, as well as for other creative projects such as exhibitions, films, books and websites.

Some of the plinth stories have already been examined and will inform one of the chapters of a book about One and Other, which will further explore people’s aspirations and the impact the experience had on their lives.

The One and Other oral history collection will be an invaluable resource to understand the nature of change from a psychological perspective, highlighting the relationship between the individual and the collective experience of an artistic event.

The collection will be available to the public via the Wellcome Library from mid-October, in conjunction with the launch of the One and Other book.

The collection will also be discussed at the forthcoming international conference, [Record] [Create] Oral History in Art, Craft and Design, where a panel of plinthers and experts will examine the project and the way in which oral history can enlighten artistic practice and process.

The conference, which is being organised by the Oral History Society in association with Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), will be held at the V&A’s Sackler Centre in London from 2-3 July.

Verusca Calabria is an oral historian and directed the recording and collection of interviews for the Wellcome Trust’s One and Other project.


Verusca Calabria can be contacted at www.veruscacalabria.co.uk

A weblink about the oral history collection will be online in mid-October: www.wellcomecollection.org.uk/oneandother

Oral History Society: www.ohs.org.uk

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