Rethinking Archives began as a project to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Arnolfini, the centre for contemporary arts in Bristol, UK. Following a major refurbishment, Arnolfini re-opened in the autumn of 2005 and in the autumn of 2006 appointed its first archivist to begin the processes of sorting, preserving and cataloguing its archival materials. Archiving Arnolfini raises all sorts of practical and conceptual questions, since Arnolfini does not have an art collection. The majority of its programme is performance or live art and exhibitions, all variously transient, spatial, immediate and experienced in bodily ways which documentation such as video and photography, can only partially capture.

Rethinking Archives is an opportunity to reflect on some of the issues that archiving contemporary art raises. How might audience perspectives be taken into account? If documentation means translating the artwork into another medium, what can be learnt from media theory? What happens when artists themselves are already working with archives, so that the artwork being archived is itself an archive or a reconstruction? Questions that are important for all kinds of archives regarding the decay and preservation of materials become particularly acute in relation to art, where longevity or decay and transience may be deliberate, intended aspects of the performance or object.

Rethinking Archives attempts to bring the specific questions that archiving Arnolfini raises to enrich our thinking and theorising about archives in general. What happens to our thinking about archives, as artists, archivists and theorists, as archives become entangled with new kinds of information and technologies, as modern materials accelerate decay and experiences of time change, as archives are increasingly used to reconstruct and re-enact the past, and as those repetitions themselves become objects and events to be archived?