Just Speak Nearby is a compilation of 10-minute audio works by students from the Royal College of Art MA Writing programme, each created in response to an image from the Pitt Rivers Museum online photograph collections.
As writers, we reject early anthropology's intent to 'know' the 'other'. Under these terms, the original collections upheld Western knowledge at the expense of all other sensibilities, creating violent gaps and ruptures. We recognise that 'knowing' the 'other' is an impossible act. A felt responsibility de-stabilised many of us. How might we to respond to archival artefacts that are ambiguous in themselves and potentially corrosive in their original context? And who has permission to interpret, and potentially overwrite, histories presented an impasse that at times felt unnavigable?
Just Speak Nearby is a group of impressions – thought and sense angled through several minds and mediums. They transcend the archive and open outwards to become ‘borrowed’, inhabited responses. Introducing our own perceptions and narratives, we sketch a terrain that isn’t flat. This terrain trembles, falls, erupts, in contrast to the linear systems of information that the archive prolongs. Within this, our works stand together, speaking from beside, nearby, rather than re-creating the same othered looking that museums historically enact. We situate ourselves relationally to the photos – in solidarity with, in critique of, or as a friend to them. And we invite you, the listener, to draw close to these ideas, images and unknowable people and places, as we just speak nearby.
Just Speak Nearby is an audio project by MA Writing students at the Royal College of Art, supported by The Pitt Rivers Museum. We were offered generative insight and feedback from Professor Dan Hicks, curator of World Archaeology at the Pitt Rivers, and three colleagues from the University of Oxford: Dr Mary-Ann Middelkoop, researcher on the project ‘The Restitution of Knowledge’ at the Pitt Rivers Museum; Rebekah Hodgkinson, Archaeology PhD Candidate, working with the Colonial Photographic Collections at the National Trust; and Beth Hodgett, PhD candidate, working with O.G.S. Crawford Photographic Archive, the Institute of Archaeology, Oxford and Pitt Rivers Museum.