University of Sussex 2014

Public and Personal Archives: Creative Negotiations

4th April 2014 (11 – 6pm)

This study day explored the relationship of public and personal in different life story projects which prioritize listening, sound and voice. Three presentations by Nicky Bird, Melanie Friend, Lizzie Thynne, Ed Hughes and Margaretta Jolly discussed questions of politics, representation and aesthetics which arise in using life stories in creative works. The event included a display of new video, photography, and sound work by FTN members, Suze Adams, Jacqueline Butler, Rosy Martin, Sally Waterman and Lizzie Thynne in the Creativity Zone.


Standing By: The Ethics of Domestic Ethnography, Melanie Friend, University of Sussex

Standing By focused on Melanie Friend’s elderly parents and their daily routine of doing the ‘Quick’ crossword, undertaken partly to combat memory loss. Whilst the piece is sound-led, Friend showed work in progress on the interweaving of images with the 27-minute soundtrack. Friend uses a tightly edited range of her own photographs taken in the past decade, together with images from her parents’ family album. The recordings of her parents’ daily crossword routine, made between 2001 & 2007, make an engaging framework and device for exploring both their 60-year relationship, and, inevitably, Friend’s own relationship with her parents. Friend’s talk dealt with questions of the everyday, representation and ethics.


Voyaging Voices: Reflections on a Glasgow Women’s Library Residency, Dr Nicky Bird, Glasgow School of Art

Originally set up in 1991, the Glasgow Women’s Library has a strong grassroots identity. During 2009-10, FTN member, Nicky Bird  was an artist-in-residence at a time when the Library was in a temporary location and about to move into Glasgow’s Mitchell Library. Its archive was then made up of largely uncatalogued donations, often from individual women, in addition to housing other archives such as The Lesbian Archive.

It was no coincidence that listening became important throughout the residency; to the voices of women talking about familial objects that were important to them; to the voice of the library’s Archivist talking about how to ‘manage’ desires and practicalities surrounding the Glasgow Women’s Library archive. The site-specific sound work Unsorted Donations emerged from this. In a series of one-to-one recorded interviews, Bird asked ten women connected to the Library – its users, volunteers and staff – to bring in an object that was important to them and imagine they were donating it to the archive. The interviews were edited to very short extracts, installed as hidden sound pieces inside boxes and dispersed throughout the archive. Participants were then invited to make an appointment at the archive and to make their own way through it, following the sound of voices coming from the boxes. From the viewpoint of an artist, Bird’s talk navigated these voices, and reflected on the tensions between the public and private at a point when an archive is becoming more formally organized.


Voices in Movement: Lizzie Thynne, Ed Hughes and Margaretta Jolly, University of Sussex

FTN member, Lizzie Thynne and Margaretta Jolly discussed an experimental work in progress in choreographing voices and sound from Sisterhood and After: the Women’s Liberation Oral History Project. A 15 minute extract from the work-in-progress, an installation entitled Voices in Movement was shown in the Creativity Zone. Sisterhood and After is a major oral history that has captured the life stories of sixty women who took part in the Women’s Liberation Movement in Britain in the 1970s and 80s. Oral history focuses by its nature on individual stories but the Movement encouraged women to look at the common aspects of their experience, as well as their differences, and understand how the personal is political. This installation juxtaposed some of the voices from the project within a soundscape to explore what connections and counterpoints emerge and evoke some of the emotions behind the stories and the way they are told.

Voices in Movement is produced by Lizzie Thynne, Ed Hughes and Margaretta Jolly (all from the School of Media, Film and Music, University of Sussex). Sisterhood and After was produced by the University of Sussex partnership with the British Library and The Women’s Library. It was funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

Presented by the Family Ties Network and Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research, University of Sussex. Supported by the Leverhulme Trust 



‘Voices in Movement’ sound installation