I'm Looking for Barbara
A publication by Sarah Carne. A pamphlet guide on how to increase the presence and visibility of women artists in archives.

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License: CC-BY-NC-ND



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Transcript of an audio recording of Sarah Carne introducing her publication at a hybrid workshop with DAAP at the Women's Art Library, 27 May 2023.

This is a pamphlet called 'I’m Looking for Barbara'. I went to a behind the scenes of the museum event, can’t remember what they’re called—do they still run?

[Anne Lydiat: Sounds good]

It was good. It was at the national government … I’ve lost all my language. It was at the Government Art Collection many years ago, and at the end they gave us a catalogue. And I was perusing it on the tube on the way home and discovered that there was a sort of apology on the front page saying there are some artists in the collection whose work we can't show because we've lost contacts with their estates. And so therefore we have no copyright permissions. So I like the idea of lost artists. Lots of words have come up today about visibility, etc. I'm interested in status. I'm interested in absence, all of those things. And so I established that one of the artists was called Barbara Brine, one of the missing artists, and so I decided to track her down—I like being a detective, I’m quite nosy. And I started to look for her she was active between 1970 and 1975. And I found a number of Barbara Brine’s, I love a bit of googling. And then I'm loosely part of an artist book collective called ‘Floating World’ and they were asked to do two exhibitions in response to the National Irish Visual Arts Library, which is in Dublin, and has an amazing archive. And so I went over there to do some research and I was thinking about Barbara, who I was looking for. I'd already established that I possibly didn't want to look for Barbara Brine, because she might want not want to be found, and it’s complicated. You don’t know. So in here’s a poem which includes the fact that I'm looking for Barbara, but Barbara might not want to be found. So I went over to Ireland, was doing this research. And the NIVAL has five collectors who are paid to go out and collect archival material, which goes into boxes in the archive. So they travel all around Ireland. They have one in Northern Ireland as well. So I became the Barbara collector. Well, there is a Barbara collector, who’s looking for Barbara. In NIVAL, in order to be in the main collection, you have to have three pieces of evidence, three worthy pieces of evidence, I'm interested in status. Who says what’s worthy? So basically the upshot is this is a pamphlet, there is an accompanying film, which you can see on my website, which has a set of instructions for the creation of a Barbara plan, which is to live in all archives. There's a set of rules basically. So if somebody comes in and asks for five male artists in a row, which doesn’t happen here but would happen some places, then the next box that’s brought out has to be a woman artist.

If someone asks for an artist at the right age, right year of activity, that matches Barbara’s, the idea is that a pop up Barbara will come out of the box and can’t be put away, it increases visibility. You know, playful. There’s a sticker. So this references … is it Wendy Davis, who started the feminist library. So when she started their system of cataloguing, she used stickers, and each colour sticker represented a different category. So mine are the ‘B stickers’ for Barbara. So yeah, that’s kind of the gist of it.

So there was an exhibition at NIVAL, but there was also an exhibition at the F. E. McWilliam gallery in Northern Ireland and my instructions for that, because they had a very different kind of archive and catalogue. And it's all about him. He was the artist. It was all about him, and every now and then his wife. So another instruction is that you can go through any catalogue anywhere, and if it's referencing his wife, you can just cut that bit out. So its instructions for how to make more artists visible and the upshot that I realised when I was making film and creating content for this, was that if I find my Barbara, she's not my Barbara anymore.

[Ami Clarke: It’s an apparatus.]

Exactly, it is an apparatus, that’s a very good word for it.

[Ami Clarke: The means by which you can keep enquiring.]


Sarah Carne


hybrid workshop transcript



In 2015 Floating World books presented ‘Unfolding The Archive’, large scale exhibitions at the NCAD Gallery in Dublin and the F.E. McWilliam Gallery and Studio in Bannbridge Co. Down. The artists set out to investigate the archives at The National Irish Visual Arts Library (NIVAL) and explore the richness of the archive as a starting point for the creation of new artworks. This pamphlet uses the figure of the Barbara Collector to explore how archival material favours those already known and how women are more likely to be included as a partner than as a protagonist. The accompanying video can be viewed here


Sarah Carne

In 2010 I attended a Museum at Night event at the Government Art Collection just off Tottenham Court Road. At the end of the evening they sent us home with a catalogue in which the introduction included the caveat that they couldn’t use photos of some artists’ work because they had lost contact with their estates meaning they couldn’t seek permission and would be infringing copyright. I was interested in the idea of these lost connections and proposed a residency to the collection in which I would investigate the concept of missing artists, leading towards the development of a new artwork.

I started narrowing down my search and settled upon Barbara A Brine, active in the 1970s and therefore potentially still alive. The curators were interested but prevaricated and finally confessed there was concern that as an organisation associated with the government they had to be seen to be utterly trustworthy and reliable, my notion of the ‘lost artist’ might be misconstrued. One curator even evoked the fear of a tabloid doorstepping them on Christmas day with accusations of carelessness. Undeterred, and with the spur of my proposal being long listed for an Artangel call out, I undertook some internet research and spoke to potential family members - I also began to consider the ethics of searching for someone who might not want to be found.

Whilst this rumbled on Floating World Books, a collective to which I’m an occasional contributor, were invited to develop new work in response to the National Irish Visual Arts Library archive and the F.E. McWilliam Gallery and Studio in Bannbridge Co. Down. and so I travelled to Dublin to continue my research there. I was still nominally searching for Barbara but slowly realised that if I did find a Barbara then she wasn’t mine. My Barbara is the one that’s always missing.

In the archive I discovered they employ collectors across the country who are paid to gather materials that evidence artists - catalogues, show invites, the usual ephemera. Without a significant amount of these the artist stays in a miscellaneous folder rather than gaining their own. I devised a pamphlet in which the Barbara Collector advises on how to achieve more visibility and attract the attention of future researchers.

Each pamphlet has a sticker with a hand written letter B on, referencing the classification system devised by Wendy Davis for the Feminist Library collection.

The pamphlet is accompanied by a video, documenting the process of the search, and a rolodex that allows people to add the names of their own missing artists. The latter was inspired by discovering a rolodex in the the Rotherhithe Picture Research Library whilst having a breather during a 40th birthday party - the rolodex belonged to the librarian and had a sticker saying ‘Property of Barbara’.

I continue to look for Barbara through other artworks, including I’m Not Looking for Mrs Barbara, a map of Tate Britain highlighting the paucity of women artists on display and the emphasis on their marital status in Wikipedia.


Sarah Carne



Unfolding The Archive, NCAD Gallery, Dublin and the F.E. McWilliam Gallery and Studio, Bannbridge Co. Down.

Unfolding the Archive: Reprised and Reassessed, as part of OPENING UP THE BOOK and The Georgian Writing Desk, Bank Street Arts, Sheffield

I’M Ten, IMT Gallery


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