The Archive by Mimi McGarry
Enter the Machine Women Archive and you step into an environment dedicated to the preservation of the memories of women who have worked or still work in factories across Britain.
The entire collection is catalogued and presented as in any archive, museum or library- all is ready available for any visitor to look at, read, listen, view or handle once chosen and picked out of the shelves, drawers and display cabinet. An archivist will be present at all times accommodating the specific interests of those visiting, supporting their research and encouraging individual insights into the issues raised with the Machine Women Project. The Archive focuses on working women’s identities, their life and work in the factory, stories about their communities or unions and decidedly highlights the importance of its very own archiving project, which records hand movements remembered by female factory workers on film.
Welcoming us the archivist helpfully explains the archive, its content and how to access the information recorded in several media displayed in shelves to the left and right which are completely filled with archiving boxes filing the visual, written, audio and film materials. There are drawers full of banners and artwork, posters and photography.
As visitors we are given the opportunity to open up theses boxes, files and drawers to reveal their rich content, enabling us to delve into the topic by choosing our own preferred area of research. As a result of the archive project we are introduced to many aspects of the life and work of machine women, meeting individual women through the different documents and their very own stories recorded as text, oral history sound clips and on film, experiencing and learning from the physical memory files (Hands films), viewing photography of sites and events present day and past as well as encountering artwork, craft and documentation like sound clips or film created especially for this project.
The back wall of the space is an oversized pin board, ready for use and there is a working desk all along the entire length of this with seats provided encouraging our quiet research. In the middle of the space is the “archive island” a desk and seat for the archivist with archiving drawers all along the outside. The only display cabinet at the front will hold banners, photographs or other items important to the local community the archive is visiting, showing us the most recent items added to the ever growing collection.
The Machine Women Archive is accompanied by a dedicated Workshop program providing oral history sessions, choreography workshops, production of video recording working hands, educational workshops about the life between home and factories, unions history and gender equality then and now.
Workshops could also involve craft activities such as banner making, cotton and rope making workshops, passing on the crafts learned during the research process, as well as delivering choreography and dance sessions.
Setting up a residency alongside the workshops guest speakers will visit the Machine Women Archive to present and discuss their perspectives on the topic giving an insight to their skills and knowledge. As part of their residencies the speakers will have also become involved in the gathering and production of new material for the collection, both sharing their specific knowledge and understandings during workshops as well as contributing small demonstrations during the opening times or presenting talks in the evenings. Sharing knowledge is essential part of the archives set up. Visitors of all ages, be it young children in school group visits, youth groups and senior members of the community are welcomed and encouraged to experience in mixed age groups.
The Machine Women Archive promotes its visits on its website and blog, through social media and in local community centres, museums and libraries, reaching out to the wider public.
The Archive aims to stay an open exhibition space during clearly promoted opening hours presenting all its gathered information in a tangible archive space opening the entire collection of material to every visitor, providing them with a hands on research experience. The design of the space echoes the visual inspiration of factories and dedicated heritage sites visited during previous research periods like for example the Helmshore mills, Luton Hat factory, the Ropery as well as influencial archives like the Mass Observation Archive/ University of Sussex and the North West Sound Archive (now closed).