Tim Etchells and Vlatka Horvat are internationally-acclaimed, Sheffield-based artists whose work often explores language and systems of organisation.
In 2016 Sheffield Museums invited the artists into its storage areas so they might respond creatively to its collections and systems of categorisation. The result of this invitation was the 2017 exhibition ‘What Can Be Seen’, a show that explored the ways in which humans attempt to grasp the world through history, science, art, stories and collecting.
As part of the exhibition Etchells and Horvat created two series of photographs, one of these is called ‘No Contextual Information’.
With the support of Art Council England, V&A Purchase Grant Fund and The Art Fund Acquisitions Grant, Sheffield Museums were able to acquire ‘No Contextual Information’, which now joins the museum’s visual art collection alongside almost 6,000 existing items dating from the 16th century to the present day.
In ‘No Contextual Information’, Etchells and Horvat turn their eye to the storage facilities of the Museums Sheffield collections, zooming in and photographing a selection of handwritten notes, labels and other text materials marked on boxes, post-it-notes, envelopes and pieces of scrap-paper. From simple descriptions and notes-to-self by curators, to reminders about the location or status of particular objects, to questions about their identity or history, these images record details in the daily life of the museum, showing traces of the ongoing work of the institution in looking after, keeping track of and studying the items in their care. Taken out of context, these labels and text fragments – announcing the presence of ‘mystery objects’ or boxes ‘waiting for lid’ – take on a poetical, at times comical, aspect, as well as giving a glimpse of the daily processes that go on behind the scenes in the museum store and archives.
Image: Tim Etchells and Vlatka Horvat, No Contextual Information, 2017. Giclée prints on Hahnemühle Photo Rag. Image courtesy the artists.