Alex May to create a major new artwork addressing the preservation and permanence of digital art.

Alex May has been appointed by the Arts Council England funded (ACE) Kent Medway Museums’ National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) to create a major new digital artwork that explores the relationship between physical and digital objects, collection care and the decay of cultural artefacts.

May, who is based in nearby Brighton, was selected from an international pool of artists through an open call commission process. Artists were encouraged to submit proposals for the creation of a digital artwork which would enable the public to reflect upon contemporary digital techniques and current debates in the digital world. The new commission would also need to address how access to the work could be maximised for future audiences.

Inspired by the collections of the individual NPO members and focusing on the considerations required when caring for objects of cultural significance, May will create 3D scans of artefacts from the collections at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and incorporate them into an immersive virtual reality digital experience. The work will emphasise how both physical and digital items are not static: they bring stories to life, are continuously changing, decomposing, and require specialised care.

the viewer will be taken on an aesthetic journey where they will be challenged to consider questions around digital cultural preservation: what do we save in an age of big data, who should make these choices, and how will these choices alter perception of culture for future generations. 500 hours of video are uploaded every minute to YouTube alone and daily ‘fake news’ stories are propagated mostly unchallenged throughout the media and across social media while culturally important digital artefacts and resources regularly disappear through technical failure and lack of funding and support. This work will explore these urgent issues through the lens of challenges faced by physical museums in the age of digital artefacts.

Alex May

Collecting digital art is currently a topic of great interest within the museum and arts sector, and May’s commission, which will be the first digital artefact taken into the museums’ collection, provides a chance to be involved in national and international discussions on the museological practice of commissioning, developing and collecting something which does not physically exist. The work also aims to broaden the reach of the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council collections beyond its current audiences by providing new perspectives and avenues in which its objects and stories can be shared.

Born-digital objects are challenging our understanding of collections and driving new thinking around the concept of ‘the museum’.  We will be bridging the gap between art and our audiences, objects and their data, and inviting people to become part of a wider conversation around preservation.

Anna Spender, Collections and Assets Manager (TWBC)

The commission will be unveiled at what is a particularly opportune moment for the museum and art gallery which are currently closed for a period of redevelopment. They will be integrated into a new cultural and information service, ‘The Amelia Scott’. May and the NPO partners will share the processes they have gone through in the creation of the new digital artwork through a series of displays, blogs, discussions and documentation.