Adopt a Slide is a collective response to the wealth of images held by the Visual Resources Centre (VRC) at Manchester School of Art – and a case for its continued relevance in the face of potential closure.
The VRC (aka the Slide Library) is 50 years old. Since the mid-1960s staff and students have been making, taking and collecting images, creating a unique archive of art school thinking, learning and teaching in Manchester. See the VRC flickr page for a taste of what’s there. But the Library is under threat. In the digital age, the function and meaning of analogue technologies is changing. It has been decided that the Art School can no longer justify holding on to a physical image archive, when a digital equivalent can so easily be managed online.
We believe there is more to the VRC than this.
Slides are artefacts in their own right, with their own material histories. They can be picked up, handled and combined with each other in ways that digital images cannot. And in combination they become a more complex repository of wider meanings that would otherwise be lost. They become an archive that is itself a subject of historical research. The Florence Declaration of 2009 makes a powerful case for the importance of maintaining analogue resources in conjunction with the digital. So far it has been signed by over 800 scholars worldwide.
Slides are also increasingly regarded as an art medium in their own right. Alongside other analogue technologies, they feature prominently in works by contemporary artists such as Turner Prize nominee Tris Vonna Michel. The slide collection is in constant use by art and design students curious to explore different formats of image making. In November last year, first year Interactive Arts students mounted a group exhibition, Slideshow, in the Salutation pub next door to the art school. This was followed by MSA postgraduate student Kristin Marshall’s exhibition Project[ed] Voices which brought together responses to the collection by 34 staff and students – including lecturers, researchers, technicians, curators, undergraduates and postgraduates past and present. The facebook group Save our Slides showcases student work inspired by the collection and, at the time of writing, has over 200 followers.
The VRC is nationally important – Art Libraries Journal recently described it as ‘exemplary in its ability to preserve the slide collection as a significant historical entity’. As a physical resource, the collection has a unique materiality, the significance of which will only become clear over time. But there isn’t time. By next term it will probably no longer exist. And once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.
This blog builds on the already significant support base for the collection, by inviting you to adopt a slide. Pick a slide, any slide, from the 300,000 images in the collection, write a response to it and post it here. As the appointed guardian of this small historic artefact, you contribute to the collective ownership of the art school’s history. Over the next few weeks we hope to capture a picture of the collection’s value and meaning 50 years after its foundation. And just maybe secure a critical mass of support that will help to secure a viable future for this unique archive.
So do it now. Here’s how.