Units of Description is the main web presence of Jane Birkin, artist, designer and scholar, based in Southampton, UK.
She is a research assistant and visiting lecturer at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton, where in May 2015 she completed a practice-based PhD entitled, ‘Units of Description: Writing and Reading the “Archived” Photograph’, supervised by Professor Jussi Parikka.
Birkin also works on exhibitions in Archives and Manuscripts at the University of Southampton Library, as curator and exhibition designer. Taking the archive as the primary locus of her own practice, she is specifically concerned with institutional description techniques that define and manage the photographic image. She employs the dry, restricted language of archival description as a radical platform for exploring image temporalities and non-linear temporal progressions within image sets. Birkin’s practice functions at the intersection of text and image, combining media culture and techniques of the archive, as well as contemporary discourse on art, photography and conceptual writing. Through text-only works, still and moving image installations and lecture-performance, she unfolds the term ‘archive’, not as a discussion of nostalgia and decay, but by approaching images through information management, through the ‘grey literature’ of descriptions and lists.
She has exhibited and performed nationally and internationally and her recent publications include: ‘Art, Work, and Archives: Performativity and the Techniques of Production’ (Archive Journal, Issue 5, Fall 2015), ‘Describing the Archive: Preservation of Space, Time and Discontinuity in Photographic Sequences’ (Networking Knowledge, 9(5), July 2016), Manifesto: Graphic, Sonic, Affective Object (Media Theory, 1(1), October 2017) and ‘Translate and Describe: Archive-Based Image Description as an Intermedial Translation Technique’ (Amodern 8: Translation-Machination, March 2018).
Birkin has an academic monograph in progress, entitled Archive, Photography and the Language of Administration. This book is contracted with Routledge, part of the series Directions in Cultural History, to be published early 2020. She also has two chapters forthcoming in edited volumes, to be published by Oxford University Press and Bloomsbury.