The Future in / of the Past – Leverhulme Trust

Poulomi Desai

“The Future in / of the Past” by artist and musician, Poulomi Desai. A series of artworks / gifts created as part of a residency funded by the Leverhulme Trust Artist in Residence Grant at Heritage Quay, the archives of the University of Huddersfield 2016 – 2017.

Extract from “The Future in /of the Past”
© Poulomi Desai.

“Some of the objectives of this residency were to, be “immersed” in the activities and collections at Heritage Quay (HQ), including the British Music Collection, “gain deeper insights, learn new skills, and create ambitious new work(s)”. The residency spanned 80 days over a period of a year and provided unexpected and surprising opportunities given the short time frame. Sarah Wickham at HQ encouraged me to take an unorthodox approach with the collections and her support was central to my outcomes. My process employed a meandering approach in the corridors and rooms of the archives, physically ‘intruding’ on the boxes, shelves and objects – smell, touch, feel, read, listen, and I became absorbed in a way that the curator, Shaheen Merali, refers to as “a roaming spirit – of a visible but disembodied entity”.

“The Future in / of the Past” is comprised of two silk sari artworks, a video composition, a series of photographic glass plates, a performance sound piece and a listening composition, all of which are housed in a bespoke stainless steel archive box that is “Made in Huddersfield”. I have produced two sets, self-contained and discrete. One is at HQ and is available in the research room. The other is in London at Usurp, an arts space I run and will be exhibited, performed and offered for off-site events. This is an introduction to the artistic project created as part of my residency at Heritage Quay (HQ) sharing a few insights, and acts as a dialogue for future projects.

Archives have always been contested spaces of preserving, recording and collating histories about people, places and events. The idea that they are repositories to discover truth bears some truth, however, they can also be contrary and unstable, subject to perpetual flux due to, accessions and deaccessions, problematic technology, burdened by issues of copyright, access and usage, and swayed by subjective pressures – both internal and external. The physical collections give some insights to the past but the very process of archiving and cataloguing determines the future.

I continually reflected upon, the politics, power, ownership and control of remembering; the semiotics of archives – signs – objects, gestures, coding, labels, lexicons, nomenclature; the meaning of digitised data; the paraphernalia of archiving – 2B pencils (perfect as they don’t smudge but are black enough), preservation boxes, archival wrappings. I was attentive to enlightenment, colonial and empire histories – the relationship to Huddersfield, the university and Yorkshire – its industrial past, textile mills and the politics of labour, poverty, workers and philanthropy. Acutely aware of these issues and more, the process of my investigation and research became tidal with poignant reverberations and revelations as my understanding of the specifics of these archives and their context developed. The artworks evolved through revisions, deletions, re-visitations, mutations – broken, mended and finally nurtured into life.”
© Poulomi Desai.

Poulomi Desai with her saris at STEAM European Researchers Night at Heritage Quay, University of Huddersfield, 2017. Photo credit: Maddie Farris.

For the full report see below or contact us for a PDF.