Category Archives: Project 2 – The Artist as Archivist

Exercise 2.2 – Abigail Reynolds


Abigail Reynolds is a contemporary British artist and writer, based in Cornwall. Reynolds’ background was in literature before she did an MFA, and her interest in books and libraries comes through very strongly in her work, which I first came across via Instagram. Her oeuvre is quite eclectic, so for this piece I will concentrate on two series which were the subjects of a solo exhibition at the Peer gallery in London earlier this year. Sadly, I did not manage to see it, as I would love to see the work ‘in the flesh’. The two series are quite different, but both use elements of the archive, albeit in very different ways.

The Universal Now is an ongoing series tapping into her interest in collecting old travel guides. She pores through them, along with old books, maps and magazines to find images of the same places taken at roughly the same spot but in different years. She then splices them together via complicated patterns of cuts and folds to form single 3D pieces in which one can see elements of both images. She says that by manipulating the folds, it is possible to see all of either image or bits of each together. They are titled with both of the original dates and also the year she made the piece, and the overall effect is to telescope and ‘ruffle’ time and encourage the viewer to question how much things really change or remain the same. The archival link in this is clear, as the work uses old books and prints, instead of newly made images.

[Reynolds} thinks about the materiality of meaning and the meaning of materiality. [She] cuts and folds, arranges and rearranges these images to create works of geometric beauty and conceptual dissonance, tackling political themes with detached precision’ (Jeffreys, 2018)

The latter part of the above quote refers to the other series which made up the exhibition – Lost Libraries: the Ruins of Time. This was based on a 2016 journey along the silk Road to look for the lost libraries along the way, and for it, she was the recipient of the BMW Art Journey award. Reynolds is passionate about libraries and books, and the spur to her application was the ongoing slow closure of British libraries as part of austerity cuts. (Something I too am passionate about, as I am Chair of my local community library trust, which we formed when local cuts made our state funded one no longer viable). The series therefore has a subtle but striking political message.  This series dwells on the libraries that are gone, and considers how to represent ‘the void’ when something no longer exists and cannot be seen. This concept is of interest to me, as my last assignment skirted around the idea of missing information and fading memories, and for my next one I plan to take this idea to its logical conclusion by removing pieces of the photograph altogether and replacing them with acrylic. She also uses panes of coloured Perspex  to alter our perception of the images we are shown, and that too is something I would like to try out. The archive element is this series is more subtle, using the understood value of libraries as a starting point and then seeking out evidence of their existence and the empty space that is left by their loss. That space holds all the missing information, literature and knowledge which is no longer accessible and there is a palpable sense of frustrated sadness associated with it.


BMW Art Journey (2016) British artist Abigail Reynolds was selected for the third BMW Art Journey. Her project “The Ruins of Time: Lost Libraries of the Silk Road” will take her to China, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Iran, Italy and Egypt. [online] At: (Accessed on 23 October 2018)

Rekorder (2016) BMW Art Journey/Abigail Reynolds [online video clip] At: (Accessed on 23 October 2018)

Elephant (2018) ‘Preview – Abigail Reynolds: The Universal Now and Further Episodes.’ [online] In: At: (Accessed on 23 October 2018)

Escape Into Life (n.d.) Abigail Reynolds. In: At: (Accessed on 23 October 2018)

HiFructose (2016) ‘Abigail Reynolds’s Collages of Folded Vintage Photographs’. In: [online] At: (Accessed on 23 October 2018)

Jeffreys, Tom (2018) Abigail Reynolds’s “The Universal Now and further episodes”. [online] At:’s-“the-universal-now-and-further-episodes”/ (Accessed on 23 October 2018)

Reynolds, Abigail (2018) Website [online] At: on 23 October 2018)

Reynolds, Abigail (2018) The Universal Now and further episodes
26 April – 23 June 2018. [online] At: on 23 October 2018)