Jul 31 2019
Going Public Project Curator, Ashley Gallant, discusses the new acquisition on display at Graves Gallery: No Contextual Information by Tim Etchells and Vlatka Horvat.
Like the majority of museums, Museums Sheffield cares for many more objects then it has space to display at any one time. We regularly change the works on display and lend the works to other
museum and galleries so that as much of the collection is seen as possible. Recently we rehung our contemporary gallery at the Graves Gallery to display some new works of art that have entered the collection, and to show some works that hadn’t been seen for a while. One of the new works to enter the collection is No Contextual Information (2017) by Tim Etchells and Vlatka Horvat.
Tim Etchells and Vlatka Horvat are internationally-acclaimed, Sheffield-based artists whose work often explores language and systems of organisation. Within the museum we call our collections organisational system taxonomy, a way of helping us arrange the city’s collections by type - i.e. visual arts or natural history. We then further sub-divide these into more specific groupings: works on paper, painting, sculpture or geology, taxidermy and osteology (bones).
In 2016 we invited Tim and Vlatka into our store to explore the breadth of the city’s collections. They were particularly interested in the groupings we use and also the ways that historically we have managed and catalogued them, prior to the introduction of the online database that we use today. The result of Tim and Vlatka’s research was the Millennium Gallery exhibition, What Can Be Seen in 2017. The exhibition explored new relationships between otherwise unrelated subjects and areas of inquiry, looking at how we attempt to grasp the world through history, science, art, narrative and the act of collecting itself. As part of the exhibition Tim and Vlatka created two series of photographs, one of which was No Contextual Information.
No Contextual Information (2017) is a unique series of 35 photographs that show the ‘backstage’ areas of the museum. The work takes its title from a box the artists saw in the Archaeology store which had ‘no contextual information’ written on the side. The ‘context’ in that case relates to the exact location in the layer of soil that the objects would have been found during an archaeological dig – having ‘no contextual information’ meant it may have been found on top of the surface rather than within the ground.
As artists, ‘contextual information’ has the wider meaning of the historical and social surroundings of the production of a work of art, as well as relating to the specific context of the museum and the idea of a collection. By exploring the play of language and misunderstandings in the collection, the artwork asks broader questions about the meaning of the collection as a whole - such as what and why we do collect, and how does a public collection relate to the public it serves?
We’re really thrilled that having been inspired by Sheffield collection, No Contextual Information has now joined it. As a charity, our capacity to acquire new works is dependent on being able to secure funding to help develop the collection. For this work we applied to both The Art Council England / V&A Purchase Grant Fund and The Art Fund Acquisitions Grant. This process involves making a case for why this work is pertinent to your collection, how it will be used, why the artists are important and what the future plans for learning around the acquisition will be.
We were really delighted when our bids were successful and the works entered the collection in early 2019. At around the same time we were working on a redisplay of contemporary art in the Graves Gallery, which focused on representing the multiple identities that make up contemporary Britain. No Contextual Information makes an interesting addition to this display, reminding us that we must continue to question, interrogate and explore the city’s historical collection and actively welcome different and diverse perspectives on it.
Images: Tim Etchells and Vlatka Horvat, No Contextual Information (2017) © the artists.