THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

16 April 2018

The Library of Ideas: Undercurrent at the British Library

To announce our upcoming special event, The Library of Ideas: Creative Use of the British Library presented by Undercurrent Theatre and the British Library we present a blog post by the Artistic Director of Undercurrent Theatre, Laura Farnworth reflecting on her time here at the Library as Artist-in-Residence.

Undercurrent-1APhotographs by the Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts team.

It is almost a year since our residency, funded by the Arts Council, began here at the British Library as their First Associate Theatre Company. During my time I have been able to rationalise what is important for me as an artist and I have learnt that I love research and it is integral to my artistic process. The better you understand material, the more distinct and original it will make your artistic work. So, spending time in and with personal archives gives you the rare opportunity to really go deep into a subject. It is about making unexpected and surprising connections between remote pieces of research. The result of these connections is where you start to create something new.

As an artist I am always looking to gather as much ‘fuel’ for my process as possible, stimulus, data, information, knowledge and details. The British Library is the optimum resource for this. Not only does it have ‘everything’(!), it also enables you to approach a topic through various ways, sound, image, digital, manuscript, maps… and all these approaches can inspire you in a different way. It really makes you think about the ‘how’ of your work, in other words, not just what your project will say and contain, but how it will be made, crafted, the form it will take.

Undercurrent-2Manuscript material from the J G Ballard archive (Add MS 88938)

A particular highlight of my time here has been researching the archive of the author J G Ballard. The archive is extensive and a fantastic overview and introduction can be found here. Whilst it does not contain as much personal material as some authors’ archives - it holds very little in the way of private correspondence - it does provide a brilliant insight into the creative process of a great artist. Ballard wrote a lot of his novels by hand and many of his typescripts are heavily annotated. As you start to work through the archive you begin to stitch together a sense of his process. You can learn so much from seeing his choices of what to edit or reword. It is unusual to have such private access to the earliest thoughts of a great artist and it’s quite special to unpick how he works through his ideas and begins his projects. 

The culmination of Undercurrent’s residency will be the The Library of Ideas: Creative Use of the British Library  The aim of this event is to encourage early-career artists into the British Library so that they can discover how they can use the Library to develop their own artistic projects. It’s a rare opportunity to meet curators and get up close to some of the collections - everything from sound to manuscripts to digital.

Laura Farnworth

Artistic Director,

Undercurrent Theatre

Associate Theatre Company of the British Library

Posted on behalf of the Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts team.