Performing Patents Otherwise: Archival conversations with 320,000 clothing inventions

Intimate engagement with the materiality of the archive brings aspects of the archive to the fore that the seeming comprehensiveness of computational search obscures. There are numerous things, stories and relations inscribed in the patent archive that computational search, however unconventional, cannot capture. While search algorithms index data, they tend to reproduce implicit race and gender bias and pass over relationships that constitute the archive but are nowhere made explicit, such as colonial and labour relations or the histories of women inventors. Interfering with search engines' unspoken conventions and archives' inscribed ordering principles only goes so far in rendering such absent-present relationships visible in the archive.

With this in mind, we complement the search interventions with four works that engage more intimately with the materiality of the archive. We consider these archival conversations because they open a generative dialogue with the materials. Each archival conversation collaborates with practitioners who brought their situated practices to the table.

'Sewing the archive' introduces the practices of the Politics of Patents lab, which experiments with sewing, reconstructing and reimagining historical clothing patents as one way of entering into an intimate conversation with the materiality of the archive. 'Women on the Move,' presents a short film, that was realised in collaboration with The Adventure Syndicate and Mòr Diversity, in which the team puts historical women's sports clothing through their paces in the Scottish hills, establishing running, jumping, hiking, flying, cycling, swimming, hunting, riding horses, catching trains and driving cars, climbing up and rolling down hills as a second mode of embodied archival conversation. 'I, Martha Gowans' translates a historical clothing patent into a score for a performance that aims to bring the labour of bodies and machines largely absent from the archive into experience. 'Caribbean Quilt' is a collaboration with the designer, curator and researcher Roselind Sinclair and the designer Yemi Awosile. The piece will take the form of a quilt that will draw attention to the vast richness of the Caribbean design lexicon, creative voices and histories that shaped global clothing while being rendered largely invisible in pan-European archives rife with colonial traces.