In 2013 artists Carson & Miller circulated a call for interest through the Archives-NRA listserv, in search of an archive collection with which to play. Central to their artistic practice over the preceding years had been the creation and use of games to explore both physical collections (such as that of Manchester Metropolitan University Special Collections) and cultural notions of keeping, caring and seeing. With rules and structure devised by the artists, the games involved playing with themselves, museum professionals and members of the public. In addition to exploring themes of memory and the construction and structure of archives, a stated aim by the artists was to examine the notion of access to an archive and the relationship between the public and private.
The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Archive responded to this call for interest, intrigued to discover how Carson & Miller intended to use play and game-playing as a means of exploring the important holdings of 20th and 21st century art archive material within its collection. The collaboration resulted in a series of games over the following two years: initially formulating and playing games with just themselves and archive staff, Carson & Miller expanded their practice to incorporate members of the public in their game-playing, resulting in the opening up of restricted archive material to those who would usually be unaware of or uninterested in accessing it via conventional routes. Instead of academics or researchers consulting archive material in the regulated environment of the reading room, members of the public encountered the Archive’s holdings in both the public spaces of the Gallery and in the archive’s own storage facility. For example, ‘A Library Game’ took place in the Keiller Library at Modern One, a public space intended to resemble a gentleman’s study, with material from the archive usually displayed – inaccessibly – behind locked doors and on a mezzanine level. Carson & Miller’s game encouraged passers-by to select inaccessible items which would then – with the supervision of archive staff – be brought forwards for examination by the chooser, and discussed with them.
Although working within the confines of site-specific games, Carson & Miller often adopted a spontaneous approach to encouraging participation, asking passers-by – often children or students – to take part in a series of games within the Gallery’s spaces. The result was an opening-up of a major cultural heritage collection in a novel, accessible and playful way.