The Subject Index


In The Subject Index Best has extracted material (approximately 1,000 items) about Peckham and its environs (including pamphlets and ephemera, press cuttings, books, films, index cards, maps and photographs) from the Southwark Archives (Local History library in Borough) and is representing this archival material within the installation.



The subject index that has been created by the Archive, describes the categorisation of their archive. It existed as a very sibstantial stapled sheaf of A4 pages. This index is alphabetical and based on the Dewey Decimal system. It is the primary method by which visitors navigate the archive. Best’s interest in the index is manifold. Partly that it appears to be a rational system for navigation but in fact is inevitably subjective, it depends on the choices made by the archivist whose responsibility it is to file the items. The parallels between 100 years before and current times, in terms of socio-political is explored and manifested. How much have times changed, the policies of Austerity, and process of Gentirification sometimes recreate similar conditions and issues.  Underpinning Best’s research is an insistence on the subjective research process.

Best likens the project at Peckham Platform to an “embassy – one territory camping in another”. In this case, an archive – replete with filing cabinets, archivist’s desk and a photocopier – occupied the gallery. Visitors to the exhibition not only found items of historical interest to look at – they also found gaps in what the archive does not represent. Best said:

“Working in the archive, I’ve been fascinated by the gaps in our view of reality. An archive may look seamless but in fact it is not; anything that is not mentioned has the appearance of not having happened.”

The collection brings to life the significance of Southwark’s role as a hotbed of activism around social issues in the 20th century, including the trade union movement, protests, theosophical debate, race and gender equality and social justice. Predictably, there is a preponderance of material about men in public life. However, amongst the histories less represented are artefacts relating to the lives of women, universal suffrage and psychoanalysis. The filing cabinet containing local women’s memoirs was off hiding in a corner. Best work also explored notable women’s biographies in the archive including Mary MaCarthur, Annie Besant, Ada Salter and Una Marson, in the form of a slide installation.

Once the exhibition ended, the loaned material was returned to the archive accompanied by some of the selected ‘deposited’ items representing the lives of local people today, some joining the permanent archive for posterity.

Emily Druiff, executive director of Peckham Platform, called for people to take part:“It’s really exciting to have the gallery temporarily transformed into an active archive celebrating the unique histories of Peckham. It’s a very public opportunity for everybody to address the skew of history. Help us fill the gaps and ensure your life is represented in Peckham’s archive.”

Visitors to the Local History Library and Archive during the exhibition found any items on loan to Peckham Platform replaced temporarily with details about visiting the exhibition and how to see the item at the gallery.



20 January – 22 March 2015


Peckham Platform, 89 Peckham High Street, London SE15 5RS


The Subject Index arises from a series of interactions and collaborations between artist Anna Best, Peckham Platform and Southwark Local History Archive (now Southwark Archives) and staff there – Dr Patricia Dark, Stephen Potter, Lisa Soverall. The Library is a public resource at the John Harvard Library, Borough High Street (LINK).

Thanks to:

Emily Druiff, director at Peckham Platform, Peter Rhodes – signwriting and learning activities, Alex Wilson – technician and production, Fran Allfrey – audio recording

Assisting with the project – Grace, Jess , Silvia and Volunteers in the exhibition – Dulcie, Damaris, Sara, Silvia, Louella, Ren, Hannah, Mario, Lauren, Eleanor, Kieran

personal thanks to  Kath Best, Chek Best, Jackie Best, Emma Smith, Boutcher School


Invitation to Peckham Platform Jan 20th

Vellum – listen to Dr Patricia Dark speaking about Vellum

Steven Potter Librarian’s speech at the Exhibition Opening

Entries & Records publication by Anna Best, Riso printed by Victory Press, design by Praline, 2012, unlimited edition. If you want one, email me.

Slideshow installed in Gallery

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related work

Reading Rye Lane

Simultaneously Anna made a work for The Winter Garden at Flat Time House curated by Lucy Reynolds.

Winter Garden included a publication containing the transcript of the reading.

This entailed two live performances with Lucy Reynolds and Anna Best gathering a peripatetic audience between the art spaces, a journey which manifested the gentrification of the area aptly.

The artist also worked with individual pupils at Peckham Platform’s associated primary school. The children recorded all the words (Reading Rye Lane in Reverse) that they could read up and down Rye Lane,