The National Archives’ first ever artist-in-residence, Michael Takeo Magruder, has this week unveiled [re]Encoding the Archive – an exhibition of three newly commissioned installations that explore our journey into the Digital Age. These pieces arose from in-depth dialogue and collaboration with experts from three specialist teams at The National Archives, and highlight important issues such as safeguarding digital records, expanding access to legislation, and conserving documents in a world where the digital and physical are increasingly entwined.
Considering his installation, Michael Takeo Magruder said:
‘Over the past two decades, The National Archives has undergone a fundamental transformation as the nation has rapidly shifted towards a digitally connected society. As the official keeper of the UK government’s records, this change has presented the institution with a range of significant challenges, but it has also created many exciting possibilities as emerging technologies afford new ways for people to connect with historical archives and collections.’
Emmajane Avery, Director of Public Engagement said:
‘These artworks explore how digital technology can provide ease of access to hundreds of years of history and make archives even more relevant to our 21st century society. This exciting installation allows our visitors to imagine what archives could be like in the future and provides a visual representation of the extraordinary number of records stored digitally by The National Archives.’
The artworks on display highlighting three different areas of The National Archives work are:
Portra of the Dark Archive – a physical sculpture that portrays the architecture and scale of The National Archives’ digital repository as it was on 1 January 2020. Consisting of 215 handmade 24ct gold-gilded blocks, the modular artwork alludes to the complex and precious nature of the nation’s digital archive that now holds over one billion records.
Corpus of Law – a 3D visualisation that illustrates the entire 800-year recorded history of legislation in the United Kingdom. Generated from The National Archives’ legislation.gov.uk dataset, the virtual artwork reveals the intricate and surprisingly interconnected nature of some 260,000 laws that are the basis of the nation’s current legal framework.
Public Records Act 1958–2020 – a unique physical ‘document’ that is a contemporary digital rendition of the United Kingdom’s Public Records Act 1958. Blending the latest computer technologies and processes with traditional materials like real vellum and gold gilding, the hybrid artwork considers the shifting nature of preservation in today’s digital-analogue world.
The exhibition can be viewed at The National Archives site in Kew, South West London until Spring 2022.
Image: Michael Takeo Magruder, reEncoding the Archive, 2020, copyright and courtesy of the artist.