The first time I came across items from the Hems collection was in the Making History room at RAMM. In this room you can see the bosses hanging from the ceiling, surrounded by many other objects, including flints, paintings, costumes, and even a bomb shelter.
I have spent many years now researching the creation and replay of artist archives. For example in the AHRC funded Presence Project, US artist Lynn Hershman Leeson and our team at Stanford University developed an artwork, Life Squared (2006), or archive 3.0, as archaeologist Michael Shanks named it, which reanimates the archive of an earlier work by the same artist. You can learn about the project which took place in the virtual world of Second Life by looking at Stanford’s YouTube video on the preservation of the work. I have also researched the documentation and archiving of mixed media experiences, focussing in particular on a British company called Blast Theory. With funding from RCUK we developed a novel documentation and archiving tool called CloudPad, which could be used to annotate mixed media resources and which we used to develop a documentation of their work Rider Spoke (2009). What is special about CloudPad is that it allows users to develop trajectories through an archive, which means users can look at what other users looked at.
Working with the Hems collection, and with the other objects in the RAMM collections that come from Dartmoor, is the first time that I will work with a whole variety of artefacts spanning across different historical periods, made of different materials, of different artistic and economic values. For me this is an entirely new experience. Handling the Hems boss wearing special white preservation gloves made me realise how delicate these artefacts are and how distant they have become from the communities for which they were made many centuries ago.
To this extent it is critical that our project manages to ‘bring back’, if only digitally, some of these objects to communities living on Darmoor, whilst at the same time disseminating information about them to further communities who may have never been or even heard of Dartmoor. I look at the excel sheets again, and the early emails that were exchanged between RAMM curators and myself, and become increasingly fascinated not only by the artefacts but also by their original collectors. Harry Hems, but also Mrs Minter and Lady Fox, and Captain Creig, who collected over 30,000 pieces from the mesolithic-bronze age. I wonder who these people were and what prompted them to collect from the Moor.
The design of our website, which you can catch a glimpse at from Rick Lawrence‘s sketch above, which will host an archive of these objects, as well as the game and map that will facilitate, we hope, a more playful interaction with them, both inside and outside the museum, is therefore very strategic to this task. We are now at the very initial stages of thinking about the functionalities and design of the site, about how these objects are to be located in space and time, about what stories we can tell about them.
Working with the Hems collection, I feel this real dichotomy between these beautiful and delicate, yet also chunky and heavy, artefacts, and the digital site, made of code, that is somehow meant to not only communicate something about these objects but also create an experience or generate a sense of their presence on the Moor itself.