Re-collections is Site Gallery’s 40th anniversary exhibition. Remove the hyphen and what is left is the verb to ‘recollect’ – to remember or to recall. From its very title therefore, the exhibition establishes a concern with the act of memory, remembering both histories and objects – ‘collections’ – as well as the process of thinking through such past collections – ‘re-collecting’.
The exhibition describes itself as autobiographical: in one sense this is the case as it presents the work of three artists from Site’s own archive – Susan Hiller, Elizabeth Price and Georgina Starr – all of whom the gallery have supported in different stages of their careers. However, the scope is much larger, reflecting on wider processes of remembering, documentation and the archival process. The central chamber of the gallery acts as both a kind of temporary archive containing material from Site’s institutional records (including photographic slides and other ephemera), and a space ‘designed to be used by everyone’ as a ‘platform to speak, listen, perform and remember’. Rather than simply an autobiographical archive then, this is something that offers the potential to be more collective and interventionist.
Moving out from the central antechamber, the gallery has been divided into three purpose-built viewing spaces, each containing a single moving-image artwork (one room for each of the three artists). Each space is entered through the central chamber, with no access from one viewing space to another. Forced to constantly return to the central chamber therefore, the viewer is continually invited to consider the relationship of the works to the wider Site archive.
The three artworks focus on the act of remembering – whether this be through individual memory, oral history or institutional records. Appropriately, one of the selected artists is the late Susan Hiller, herself pivotal within what Hal Foster famously described in 2004 as the ‘archival impulse’ in contemporary art of the time. In keeping with much of her earlier work, in Lost and Found (2016), Hiller creates her own archive, a composition of twenty-three archival audio recordings of what she categorises as ‘extinct’, ‘threatened’ or ‘revived’ languages, which range from Maori to Cornish. From singing to discussing the passing on of languages through oral communication, what the different recordings share is a preoccupation with the importance of sound and the spoken word for the preservation of these languages. This is highlighted in the artwork itself through a purposeful lack of visual material: the viewer is invited to concentrate on the sounds of the recordings with only white subtitles and a green, undulating oscilloscopic line charting the vibrations of each individual speaker shown on the screen throughout.