Reflection - Documentation : Archive : Collection : Excess : Artifact : Photography : Preservation / by Ally McGinn

I am a highly organised person, which I've been told is fairly rare in the art world. I religiously document my studio and my thoughts. These explorations into terminology are a form of documentation, of thought and process.

The notion of documentation as artwork can be seen in site art, performance art, ephemeral art and arguably, photography as a medium, to name a few. Documentation in process has become an integral part of the artworld. Most art is seen second hand, through various forms of documentation, primarily photography although the forms of presentation vary greatly.

A point should be made that the experience of art is shifted when experienced second hand. While arguably all context is second hand the experience of the audiences interaction with an artwork is first hand and therefore far deeper.

Documentation is moving more directly into my practice. With the inclusion of photographs the works reference a different time and a standardised form of representation.

I plan to use more forms of documentation in the artworks themselves. This is something I would like to explore in more depth.

The notion of the archive is tied to art in the public realm. Primarily associated with museums and historical record, the notion of the archive has been explored by artists like Tony Cragg, who displayed artefacts found in an excavation of the Thames, complete with vitrines and traditional display cases.

Archives are collections of documentation. The collection presents the record of a time or event.

Which could be seen as another example of the objectification of time.

They invite the audience to explore the history, often with accompanying information to inform and shape the context of these objects.

Object and context go hand-in-hand in an archive.

The collection of materials in my studio can be seen as an archive. Organising the materials can be an artwork in itself and it is certainly a performative act. I need to explore recording the process.

Note to self - also explore ways of recording the process. Video is not the only option. E.g. Ink on shoes.

Collection, in the practical sense, describes the way I gather materials. Often using a dustpan and brush, biodegradable bags or small jars.

The collection is not an unconsidered one. The detritus of life is a large portion of it. The initial focus comes through the categorisation of artistic production. However, other objects are being collected, through contextual links to the existing collection. (Another note to self - explore this more).

Excess. Too much. More than necessary. I have included this term here because it is related to the practical form of the other words (my collection is rather vast now) and yet the contextual links are far different.

However considered the inclusion of objects is, the collection grows. A reexamination of materials is regularly required. Another will follow in line with this conceptual reexamination.

Exploring the notion of excess has direct references to capitalist society. A link that I find increasingly relevant.

The excess of objects, information, and material, can form its own context. For me this is beginning in the difference between want and need. In modern society we rarely understand the difference between the two words, and increasingly they have merged.
In reality the two are vastly different. Many have more than they need, and many more have far less. Excess implies inequality. Unbalanced.


The objects found in museums (institutions of documentation), collections and archives are known as artifacts. The difference between an artifact and an object is the value placed upon it. It’s purpose, like those in the artworld, is shifted through our perception of its contextual value.

An artifact is a record or indication of something; it inspires thoughts about something else. Often from events or moments in time, which links to the ways i speak about my ongoing practice and the notion of practice-as-performance.



I have included this word here because of the focus of photography in my practice. It is used as a form of documentation, examination and presentation. The photographs become arguably more important than the work itself, and often the photograph is the only existence of many works.

I am exploring the use of photography, and other forms of documentation, more directly into the practice.


These words can be linked to the idea of preservation. The act of preserving something, object or idea, for later consideration, understanding or significance.

By extending the life of these materials am i preserving them? It would appear so, but does the word fit. Are they preserved or pre-served. (I do love a hyphen)



While I didn't expect this group of words to be a focus there seems to be a lot of points to come back to, therefore this grouping is more important than i realised.

These terms are important for my wider practice, and form part of the impetus for continuing, but they are less exemplified in individual artworks. A distance i plan to close somewhat in the coming term.

Update : after some further reflection i've come to realise that the important word in this group is ‘artifact’ as it covers many of the other words but has a more specific focus in my current explorations.