Project duration: 2017 – 2020
Project lead: Marion Crick, ‎Head of Collections Management, V&A
Internally seconded V&A co-lead: Corinna Gardener, Senior Curator of Design and Digital, V&A
Early career research fellows: Juhee Park, Data Research Fellow and Anouska Samms, Community Research Fellow

The V&A collects digital works in what is probably a wider variety of forms than any other institution in the UK. Recent and planned acquisitions include contemporary computer games, smartphones, software, working digital artworks and 3D printing codes. Such collections and the challenge they present have been the subject of working group analysis internationally, but solutions have often reduced conceptual, ephemeral and experiential aspects of these works to their material elements in order to catalogue and preserve them. There is so much more to duty of care for digital works than issues around technological obsolescence and migration to new platforms and contexts.

Taking a cue from social and linguistic theory and literary studies to look closely at the production and reception of such works, this project aims to find descriptive forms appropriate to collections management for the multiple dimensions, including time and experience, that they encompass.

Connecting up the dots between recent media philosophy and histories of conceptual art, the project will also problematise the distinction between tangible and intangible heritage – a distinction that does not seem to accommodate digital works. The sectoral standards for cataloguing description and the information architectures that hold them are also challenged by digital works, which go beyond three dimensions to include both time and experiential elements. How are artistic intentionality and audience experience incorporated in collections management terms?

Articulating the scope of the intellectual property inherent in the description and cataloguing of conceptual digital works is also at issue. Does current legislation and public policy, created in a pre-digital age, adequately serve our ambitions to collect, develop, present and interpret digital collections?

A series of expert workshops – involving museum practitioners, information technologists from both research and industry contexts, artists, digital media theorists, collections managers and curators – will articulate concepts around digital collections to inform policies and protocols which adequately encompass such digital collections, overcoming some knotty problems of access, interpretation and even definition.

‘csq3604’, digital inkjet print on Somerset rag paper, Mark Wilson, 2008, US. Museum no. E.411-2010. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London