Data and Archives Experiments in the Arts

Data and Archives

Digital Archives


Many arts companies are looking to bring their archives into the digital age. Samuel Fry lists some of the current experiments with data and digital archives.

The definition of a digital archive is: “The long-term storage, preservation and access to information that is “born digital” or for which the digital version is considered to be the primary archive.” This means that digital archives are seen in two categories: 1. Those where the information was created digitally and; 2. Those where the information is input later.

There are a number of exciting digital archives from recent years. For example, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation made hundreds of their radio and television clips easily access on their Digital Archives CBC website. Similarly, a digital archives specialist created the Digital Archives of Appalachia – providing online access to archival and historical materials related to the culture of the southern and central Appalachian region. With projects as broad as “digital archives of death records” to archives of newspapers (such as The Times Digital Archive), what comes next?

We have brought together a list of experiments in data and archives that are being explored by arts companies. This includes experiments in digital archives software, digital archive services, digital archive systems and other digital archives initiatives. All of these could create fantastic, cost effective ways for arts companies to collate and store data. What is more, these experiments could lead to a host of digital archive jobs in many different industries.


Digital archives software

There are a number of art companies that are experimenting with data and archives. Here are some of the interesting projects:


How do you make archives a compelling, living proposition in the digital age? That’s one of the aims of this partnership between documentary maker Steve Humphries, Lynn Barlow (University of the West of England) and Bristol new media company, Clockwork Cuckoo. Using a rarely seen collection of footage and archive documents about boy soldiers from World War One, the team will research how to combine a game with documentary elements to make a compelling proposition for 11 – 14 year olds. The team are exploring the challenge of creating a game that allows the story and fight for survival of these young soldiers to be understood by today’s younger generation, but doesn’t glorify war in the way that many first person shooters can do.

The World In A Cube

NMN has the licence to Tate & Lyle’s archive for ‘educational purposes’. They feel that this unique archive of 300 films (approximately) should be digitised and made available to the public. Its significance to East London cannot be overstated and it is important that the communities whose families helped to build the company’s history are enabled to engage or re-engage with this heritage. With real public access as the motivating force at the heart of this project, NMN and Birkbeck will collaborate to research and develop creative opportunities for public engagement with this Collection.

Boron Mon Amour

Could Boron be the most boring element in the periodic table? Boron Mon Amour creates a ‘hymn to the humdrum’, combining linear film with live data streams to form a major new component of the global documentary project 94 Elements. Both innovative and irreverent, this project will use interactive visualisation to explore our relationship with natural resources whilst building an adaptable, scalable tool for telling data-driven stories in the future.

Knowle West Media Centre

Working with young people, this project will explore how live and open data can be used as the basis of community-based creative projects. The project will create and curate data streams, apps, widgets and ideas that will use technology together with arts and activism.


Digital archives Initiatives

Numbers that Matter

Data is too incomprehensible to care about. As such data wrangling has formed an elite. Numbers that Matter’s intention is to make individual community participants aware of the data footprint that is constantly generated and to establish what data (‘numbers’) matter to them. The aim of the project is to develop insights around civic interests that have a bespoke individual and meaningful resonance, with the intention to inform and potential to influence behaviour through the creation and use of a bespoke wearable device.

A Walk in the Park

This project seeks to explore the question of how digital communal space may be woven in a new Web, where people own and control their data and their interactions with others. They believe that a park offers an appropriate model for such a public space, defined by local rules, where behaviour is broadly-speaking socially-determined and which is generally seen as a place for recreation and relaxation with friends, family or alone – but always amongst others, and with the possibility of establishing new ties by serendipitously crossing paths with someone you don’t yet know well.

The Risk Taker’s Survival Guide

From 9/11 to horse meat scares, scenarios of risk surround our lives. But how good are we calculating risk? ‘The Risk Taker’s Survival Guide’ is a short interactive documentary that takes you on a journey to explore your engagement with day-to-day risk. This short film will peel back the data and assimilate the stats, to uncover a precarious world, where you’ll need to make quick and decisive choices, equipping you with a mental toolkit to help you stay calm in a complex world.

The Next Time(line)

Timelines offer readers a way to explore historical, biographical and contextual information about an author or book, but at present the timelines used in literary apps offer little more than their paper counterpart. Using data visualization and the affordance of the touch screen, Amblr and Bradley Stephens of Bristol University will work with three classic literary texts to create a more dynamic, malleable and compelling form of timeline for the digital world.


Digital Archive Services

Live @LICA

Using augmented reality and social media, this project will invite the public to curate personal virtual ‘collections’, by bringing images of paintings and artefacts from the LICA collections into their homes. As well as existing in virtual space, the results will also be exhibited at the Peter Scott Gallery.

The Secret Lives of Books

When was this book last read? How popular is it across the world? How many copies of this book exist? Guerilla Dance Project and Tom Mitchell of University of the West of England are joining forces with the new Library of Birmingham to celebrate the physical book as the centerpiece of information exchange. Transforming a quiet workspace into a beautiful interactive platform, their experience will visualise the unexploited data sets of our public libraries, rewarding bookish curiosity with unexpected connections.

Ten Most Wanted

Inspired by the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted website, this project will use game mechanics to encourage the public to hunt down ‘missing information’ about objects from the museum’s collection. Outcomes will include an open-source platform and best practice guidelines for game-based crowdsourcing in the arts sector, and an intellectual property rights framework with reusable templates for integrating user-generated content into professionally curated collections.

Digitising the Dollar Princess

Lady Curzon’s journey as the Vicereine of India was dictated by the rhythm of the Raj, recorded in intimate detail through letters, diaries, in clothing and photographs. These material remains illuminate her life – but which stories should we tell? Through the lens of this fascinating woman, Nicola Thomas of University of Exeter and Bow Software are setting out to break new digital ground in the genre of biography, creating a compelling non-linear reading experience led by curiosity and rich interaction with source materials.

Imperial War Museum

As part of the 2014 centenary commemorations of the Great War, the IWM is partnering with Historypin to invite the public to help curate the content in its First World War paintings collection. Using specially developed crowdsourcing tools, the public will be able to view artworks, locate them on a map, add contextual information and their emotional responses and contribute to online discussion. Public and curatorial voices will be given a platform on the IWM website and in an online exhibition on Google Cultural Institute.

Memory of Theatre

The Memory of Theatre is a collaboration between University of Bristol Department of Drama, cultural industry partner Bristol Old Vic and digital economy partner Pyxis Design. Directed by Tom Morris (Artistic Director of Bristol Old Vic) and Paul Clarke (Lecturer and director of theatre company Uninvited Guests), the project will explore the relationship between archives and memories, the way performance events live on through the stories told by audience members and the relationship between heritage buildings, especially theatres, and remembering.



If you have heard of other interesting data or archive projects in the arts, why not tweet us @CreateHubUK #DataExperiments with the details.

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