The Netherlands has a rich history of design and digital culture. Making an important contribution to this are workshops and media labs, which organise projects or residencies with makers. Over the years, they build up a large amount of knowledge, which they can pass on to new generations. Yet because workshops often work on a project basis, it is not self-evident that this knowledge is archived, let alone made accessible. In the coming years, the Network Archives Design and Digital Culture (NADD) aims to support workshops and media labs to make their archives more accessible. What does it take to organise and archive this knowledge? And how can institutions better share the knowledge that lies in their archives?
One of these archives is located at Sundaymorning@ekwc, an international artist-in-residence and knowledge centre for ceramics located in Oisterwijk. Photographer Vanessa Kappler delved into the archive to photograph parts of it. In her photos, Kappler shows the diversity and richness of both the archive and the entire centre.
The sharing of knowledge as a spearhead
Sundaymorning@ekwc is one of the partners in the NADD. Since its establishment in 1969, the ceramics centre has had the mission to further develop the material of ceramics and to promote its applications in art, design and architecture. Together, the unique facilities in the workshop, the guidance from consultants with leading technical knowledge, and the openness to freely share recipes, processes and innovations, form a unique environment in which artists, designers and architects are invited to experiment with clay.
During its 50th anniversary in 2019, project manager Nico Thöne delved into their archive, in preparation for two publications and several exhibitions. The archive turned out to be less accessible than hoped for. She found rows of folders in large filing cabinets: files of former residents, organised by last name but without any other indexing.
“When Ranti Tjan (director of Sundaymorning@ekwc, ed.) and I went into the archive, we were surprised by the diversity, with 50 years of personal stories,” says Thöne. This wealth of stories, from more than 1500 artists who have worked at Sundaymorning@ekwc over 50 years, is one of the reasons why Thöne is so eager to share this archive. Key moments in the artists’ careers are still hidden in enormous filing cabinets, accessible only to those who know exactly what they are looking for.
In addition, Thöne refers to the sharing of knowledge as one of the most important spearheads in making the archive accessible. Over 50 years, a great deal of specialist knowledge has been acquired in the field of ceramics, which Sundaymorning@ekwc is happy to share. But how?
Opening up the Sundaymorning@ekwc archive is currently still in its infancy, but its abundance of content is very promising. Firstly, the archive contains an enormous history and knowledge of clay and ceramics; it is an archive of practical knowledge that has been built up since 1969. In addition, the archive also contains a history of Sundaymorning@ekwc, both the organisation and the personal stories of the artists. Finally, Thöne mentions a societal source of information in the archive: “In the archive, you can also see the ways of thinking and visions of former directors or political zeitgeists reflected in what is collected. That's interesting when you look back on it.”
To give a glimpse into this special archive of Sundaymorning@ekwc, photographer Vanessa Kappler was asked to capture the archive in her own artistic way. Vanessa Kappler is a fourth-year photography student at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. She spent a whole day at the centre in Oisterwijk, to not only get to know the archive itself, but also to capture the atmosphere of the building.
The final selection of photos show, among other things, slides, physical sculptures, firing programmes of the ceramic kilns, glaze recipes and the final product of this recipe in the form of a golden tile. “For me, the archive, the residency and the building are inextricably linked,”says Kappler. “That's why I wanted to show all these facets in the photos.”
In her work as a documentary photographer, Kappler often makes use of archives and experiences various opportunities to improve their accessibility. “To me, an archive should feel like going to a flea market and finding something rare. Of course, it would be great if the archives were more accessible to more people: if they were better organised, they would be easier to use. I can imagine that some will get frustrated with having to search for something specific, while others enjoy this search. I really love research and digging through archives.”
Not everyone has to reinvent the wheel
The NADD has the ambition to make these archives more accessible, so that knowledge is easier to share, find and use. By linking archives together, knowledge can be shared between the different archives and the user can search more deeply. Thöne also emphasises this wish from the archive at Sundaymorning@ekwc: “We are convinced that you have to build up and share knowledge. Not everyone has to reinvent the wheel. In theory we work open source, but the current state of our archive complicates this. We are going to organise our archive in such a way that sharing knowledge becomes as accessible as possible. Suppose someone is looking for information about the colour red in ceramics, we would like to see that they can also click through to other national and international archives via our archive, and thus get lost in a source of inexhaustible knowledge.”
The digital as an entrance to the physical
To achieve this, the Sundaymorning@ekwc archive will first be digitised. The first step has been taken: a passionate team of volunteers scans and organises the thousands of slides. The digital publication of the images will take place in a later stage. Thöne: “At this stage it is not important to me whether we present the archive attractively. If I manage to make this knowledge digital and shareable, the biggest hurdle has already been overcome. I have a vision of the future users of the archive in my mind and tailor the plans to their wishes, otherwise we will soon have a digital archive that nobody can make sense of. I also work with partners who advise us on how to make this accessible and how to make it user-friendly. By wandering, you can also end up somewhere else.”
Kappler agrees with Thöne: she also sees value in the digital as an entrance to the physical archive, but not as a substitute. “I agree with the archive is being digitised, but it can, or perhaps should, be just a prequel to actually visiting the archive,” says Kappler.
Residents as archive of the future
The opening up of the Sundaymorning@ekwc archive is still in the first phase. The organisation is working together with, among others, DEN, NADD and its partners. Collaborations are important in this process, because in this way knowledge about ceramics can be bundled, while making the archive accessible. This is two-sided. On the one hand, the existing archive is digitised: slides are scanned, correspondence is processed and everything is structured in a clear, public interface. On the other hand, the archive is made future-proof.
The current residents are creating new archive material every minute. Thöne is currently working on policies to collect this on a daily basis, also in collaboration with the residents of the work centre: “We are raising awareness in our current residents that they are creating our future archive. Everything they leave with us will be added to this. If they do this in a certain, conscious way, the archive will be even more valuable in the future.”