Archive preservation at Annie Gentils Gallery
In this pilot project a summary is given of the process Annie Gentils went through to create an inventory of her archive to make it usable and accessible. She would like to digitise photos and documents, or have it done by someone else, in order to show the history of her gallery on her website. This pilot project was carried out with the help of M HKA.
- Defining the problem: December 2013 – January 2014
- Making an inventory: January 2014 – April 2014
- Storage strategies: March 2014 – April 2014
- Evaluation of archiving phase: April 2014
- Re-use: April 2014
- Registration at Archiefbank Vlaanderen: April 2014
- Schedule for digitisation: April 2014
The problem definition
When looking for photos and documents to place on her website, Annie Gentils discovered that the material from her earlier period was not yet digitised. In the context of this pilot project it was decided to start with the material from Montevideo (1981-1985) - the period preceding the setting up of the Annie Gentils Gallery. Montevideo was a meeting point for young artists from the national and international experimental arts scenes. Exhibitions, performances, concerts, dance, theatre and film shows were organised in the exhibition space.
- Classification and description
- Digitisation and disclosure
Author: Nastasia Vanderperren (PACKED vzw)
1. Defining the problem
1.1. Delineating the case
It was decided to delineate the archive up to the material from Montevideo. This is a distinct period of four years and M HKA showed an interest in helping to digitise the material. The Montevideo archive complements the museum’s collection.
1.2. Looking for a volunteer
Since Annie Gentils runs the gallery on her own, she doesn’t have enough time to take on the classification and description of the archive herself in such a short period. With the help of BAM a volunteer was found to start on the archive.
2. Making an inventory
Below there is a description of the various steps taken in the process of classifying and describing the Montevideo archive. In practice these are not separate phases, but are intermingled.
In 2011 an article about Montevideo appeared in De Witte Raaf (only in Dutch). Before making the inventory this article was checked. The names of artists, exhibitions and events were included in a working document that served as a basis for classifying the archive material.
The first step in classifying and describing the Montevideo material was to bring the documents together in one space. The material was at Annie Gentils’ house in various plastic boxes spread around various rooms. It was varied in nature – letters, photos, posters, audiovisual tapes – and was kept in no particular order in plastic files and ring-binders. Posters from various exhibitions were rolled up and stored in cardboard tubes.
Once all the material had been gathered together, it was time to start identifying the documents. All the documents were laid on a table and ordered chronologically by exhibition. The ‘remaining documents’ (mainly photos) were examined together with Annie Gentils. As the creator she knows the context of these documents and was able to identify them.
Since various folders of photo material and documents from various exhibitions were mixed up, an alphabetical list of artists by exhibition was also created. Loose photos and documents were then linked to the appropriate exhibition.
The content of the audiovisual tapes was not known. There was no device on which to look at the tapes and film material.
Once all documents had been gathered together, the cleaning began:
- Removal of harmful elements such as staples and paperclips.
- Removal of documents from ringbinders and plastic folders
- The documents that were originally held together with staples, paperclips, plastic folders and ringbinders were put in paper folders or held together with a sheet of paper folded double.
2.5. Classification and description
In order to classify the documents, a basic structure was set up and the documents were described:
- Setting up a basic structure: A logical structure was used to make it easy for Annie Gentils and later researchers to search the archive. The envelopes containing documents about exhibitions and events were classified according to the chronological list from the article in De Witte Raaf.
- Classification: The documents were classified in files. This means that all the documents from a certain exhibition, regardless of the type of material (e.g. photos, slides, letters, etc.) were classified together and described. If the documents were too big (e.g. folders or documents bigger than A4) they were stored separately: posters were put with posters and the documents bigger than A4 format were put in a large-size folder.
- Description: Descriptions of the documents were made in an Excel file on the basis of ISAD(G) standards. Posters and large-format documents were classified as such in the Excel file to make clear their link with the exhibitions.
Finally, all documents were put in folders and envelopes and stored like this in cardboard boxes. Photos were put in acid-free sleeves. The rolled-up posters were all put together in a box. A separate folder was purchased for large-format (bigger than A4) documents. The box number was included in the archive description.
4.1. Schedule for digitisation
Now that an inventory has been made of the archive, it is possible to find documents by exhibition. This gave Annie Gentils the opportunity to contact M HKA and ask for help in digitising the documents. M HKA will also help Annie Gentils with the audiovisual tapes which she herself has no means of playing.
4.2. 4.2. Registration at Archiefbank Vlaanderen
The archive was registered at Archiefbank Vlaanderen. In this way, Annie Gentils lets people know that the archive exists, what it contains and where it is located.
Read the tool Registreren in Archiefbank Vlaanderen (in Dutch only) if you want to know how to register an archive in Archiefbank Vlaanderen.
Were the desired results obtained?
Classification and description
It is possible to create an archive on a limited budget. There is no need to buy expensive software to describe your archive; you can simply create descriptions in an Excel file or other spreadsheet. Archive boxes, folders and envelopes can be bought in any stationery and/or office shop such as AVA. The acid-free sleeves that Annie Gentils bought for storing her photos did come from a specialist stationery shop.
Annie Gentils now has a well-ordered archive whose content is accessible. The archive documents were classified by exhibition and the description indicates in which box the documents can be found. Now that she knows which archive documents she has in relation to which exhibitions and events, it is also easier to establish objectives regarding the use of the archive. Together with BAM (now Kunstenpunt) she is thinking about which future exhibitions the archive can be used for and who she can work with to set up exhibitions or prepare publications.
Digitisation and accessibility
Suitable digitisation equipment is needed to make high-quality digitised photos. There was no budget for the purchase of a good scanner. As the Montevideo archive complements the M HKA collection, they were contacted on this point. The Ensemblebank at M HKA contains works by a number of artists who started out in Montevideo.
The archive was registered in Archiefbank Vlaanderen so that Annie Gentils can show that she has an archive and that it can be visited by interested parties and researchers. You can consult the file here (only in Dutch).
Conclusions and points for attention
- The involvement of Annie Gentils in the process is important. As the creator she knows the context of the documents and that makes it simpler to identify unknown documents. The article from De Witte Raaf was also a big help in classifying the archive. Without this article the inventory process would have taken much longer.
- ISAD(G) is easy to use.
- Excel is not easy to use unless you are familiar with it.
Author: Nastasia Vanderperren (PACKED vzw)