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The personal papers of Ian Hinchliffe (1942-2010), performance artist, have now been catalogued, and are searchable via our online catalogue.

To celebrate the accessibility of this fantastic resource, we have been given, as a guest contribution, a version of a talk delivered by Dr Dominic Johnson at the public research event ‘Hinchliffe’s Afterlives’ in November 2017, organised in collaboration with Dave Stephens and the Live Art Development Agency.

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Hinchliffe's plans for an installation and performance piece, 1998. Copyright Beaconsfield.

“In April 2017, Queen Mary Archives acquired the Papers of Ian Hinchliffe from its former resting place, the high attic of Beaconsfield Gallery Vauxhall, where the materials had sat dormant for twenty years since 1997, and which had become relatively inaccessible since Hinchliffe’s death – in a fishing accident in Arkansas in 2010. Hinchliffe’s longtime collaborator Dave Stephens was instrumental to the acquisition, as was Lois Keidan and the Live Art Development Agency, with support from me on behalf of the Department of Drama, Queen Mary.

An archive does not take shape by itself. Who makes an archive? The Papers of Ian Hinchliffe were prepared, firstly, by Hinch himself, when they were not yet an archive, quite, but a collection of things, conditioned by the mad fragmentation that is an archive, and kept as a result of the conscious and unconscious hopes and needs of the artist. Erratic and unpredictable as Hinchliffe may have been in life and art – a nonsense distinction for him, it seems – he was nevertheless meticulous in his amassing of documents relating to his performances, from the early 1970s until his last works in the 1990s, as well as to other parts of his life. In 1997, during a period of semi-retirement and relative obscurity, Hinchliffe was approached by Naomi Siderfin and David Crawforth of Beaconsfield and offered a retrospective exhibition. The exhibition – the only one of its kind in Hinchliffe’s lifetime – would take place in 1998 as the month-long installation and performance marathon Estate: The Ian Hinchliffe Retrospective. For Estate, Siderfin and intern Rebecca Shatwell collected materials from Hinchliffe’s home, which they sorted, dated and selected for exhibition. After Hinchliffe’s death in 2010, the archive was given care and custodianship by a trust – which included Siderfin and Crawforth, Dave Stephens, and others – who hoped eventually to place the materials in a safe, secure and accessible venue to enable their friend’s posterity. When Queen Mary Archives acquired these materials, in four or five crates, a further layer of organisation was afforded it by professional archivists Naomi Sharp and Adele Allen, who further ordered, identified, and catalogued the contents.

What is an archive? What can it hold of performance? What exceeds the shape and structure of an archive? What may an archive keep? Hinchliffe’s papers include massive caches of photographs, flyers, posters, sketches for sets, scores and scripts, letters, agreements, and clippings. The range of his work is staggering, from one-off interventions in art centres and pub theatres, to film collaborations with Mike Figgis, to a surprising commission to make a participatory event for children in South London in 1973 (Hinchliffe was physically ejected from the theatre by the children, and the police were called). All and more are documented to some extent – though many other performances remain historically wild: some interventions exist in memory only, as anecdote, tall tale, or legend.

Strange species of document usefully intrude on the archive. For example, his fishing diaries: exceedingly detailed records of his catches, including handwritten accounts…and Hinchliffe, too, looking like a goggle-eyed Frank Randle brandishing a carp, glued to the lovingly crafted pages of his journal.

Recently, Dave Stephens, the Live Art Development Agency and I organised a public research event to celebrate the acquisition of Hinchliffe’s papers by QMUL Archives. With talks, screenings and performances, we commemorated the loss of four artists in the last few years – Hinchliffe, as well as Lol Coxhill, Rose Finn-Kelcey, and Roger Ely – four artists who made or enabled foundational works in and beyond performance in the 1970s, and continued to do so until their untimely deaths. The question of a legacy, or of influence or posterity, concerns the values conferred upon a body of work, which can be secured by recognition, by criticism, and by acts of personal and institutional custodianship (such as that given by an archive). Tending to the afterlives of artists…invited intuitive and makeshift forms of care, innovations in the labour of preservation, acts of friendship or love, sympathetic magic, telepathy, a leap of faith (and, it turned out, unanticipated heights of rowdiness). Across the loving and the rowdy, we celebrated Hinchliffe and company with acts of reconstitution, and posthumous care, to test the possibilities of a creative life after death.”

To find out more about this collection you can search or browse the archives catalogue using catalogue reference IH. If you have any questions or wish to arrange a visit to the archives please email us.