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Archive: re-imagining the Borough Road collection


  • Borough Road Gallery 103 Borough Road London, England, SE1 0AA United Kingdom (map)

Johanna Bolton's research images dissect and reorder the visual and thematic links between paintings in the collection. Her residency has focused on the different ways in which archives can be mapped and understood, culminating in her solo exhibition opening at The Borough Road Gallery on November 1st. Cut out, assembled and arranged according to direction, the process of categorising and re-archiving the lines gives a new room for these painterly moments to exist. Collectivised and cut from any pictorial context but their own presence, the lines still seems to me to be powerful memories of the artists at work; their commitment, decisions and physical presence.

This project began with a discussion with the curator, Theresa Kneppers, about the nature of art and archives. At the time I was working on a research residency at Kew Gardens Herbarium, and had become fascinated with how scientists record and understand the botanical world through taxonomy. The way the Herbarium’s specimens were arranged physically in space was rational, but seemed to some extent random. I came out of the residency with a strong curiosity about how and why humans arrange and categorise objects to create archives.

A David Bomberg Legacy - The Sarah Rose Collection is of course a very different kind of archive, but I was curious to see how these same ideas of categorisation could function to highlight similarities and contrasts between works of art and artists. Art archives are a difficult beast, as the very nature of art is that each work is unique. This collection is knitted together by the choices of the collector, a specific location (London South Bank University, or Borough Polytechnic as it was formally known), and a precise period of time (1946 - 1951), which saw the influence of David Bomberg’s teaching begin to take shape. 

I have spent my residency investigating and mapping the ordering principles that could be applied to this particular archive, first focusing on pictorial characteristics such as colour, shapes, mark making and subject matter. Through this process, I became interested in tracing human interactions between the paintings - the influence of the teacher, dynamics of rivalry and support within the group, and the shared experience of lingering trauma after the recent war.

The responses presented in the exhibition can be seen both as interpretations and appropriations of things found in the archive, and as somewhat surreal suggestions of new ways to view and categorise A David Bomberg Legacy -The Sarah Rose Collection. 

-Johanna Bolton

Johanna Bolton Borough Road Gallery