Applications are invited for an AHRC-funded Collaborative Partnership Award at King’s College London and Tate to investigate two main questions: how are software-based artworks to be described and represented for the purposes of preservation, understanding and access? What constitutes technical art history for software-based artworks?

The term ‘software-based artwork’ refers to art where software is the primary artistic medium. These works form complex systems exhibiting a range of dependencies on changing hardware, commercial software, interfaces or technological environments. Software-based artworks may include bespoke elements coded by the artist or their programmer, and many are interactive or involve complex systems that exhibit particular behaviour, such as responding to a visitor or searching for keywords on the internet.

Software-based artworks raise major challenges for digital preservation, and there is neither consensus regarding preservation strategies nor established methodologies for identifying the characteristics or significant properties to be preserved. Appropriate strategies will be dependent on the specifics of each artwork; for example, in some cases it may be essential to preserve the code, in others the behaviour may be the crux of the work. The diversity of design approaches and implementation platforms used, and thus the variety of factors that can affect their sustainability, makes it essential to capture detailed technical information about the components of an artwork and the digital environments in which they are created, curated and stored. It is also increasingly important to provide a sense of what these works are like when they are not on display, or for people unable to visit Tate’s galleries.

The central research question therefore concerns how to describe or represent a software-based artwork, and it will be examined from various perspectives, ranging from that of a broad audience to a technical narrative for supporting decisions about the conservation and display of an artwork. The research will draw upon museum practice in relation to cataloguing and emerging practice within conservation for providing technical narratives. As well as identifying the technical information that could or should be included in a catalogue entry, the candidate will examine whether the nature and content of technical studies needs to be rethought, and will create six technical entries for software-based works in Tate’s collection.

This invites the broader question of what constitutes technical art history for software-based artworks. Technical art history is an evolving field that focuses on the material choices of the artist, how a work was made, and the relationship of these to the meaning, history and context of the work. It is usually framed around artworks that use traditional artistic materials such as paint; however, this research project may be considered as an analogue for software-based art of approaches to painting conservation in which a painting and the materials used to create it are examined in depth, with digital analytical techniques used instead of chemical and physical ones. The question of the status of the documentation of software-based artworks in relation to the artwork may also be explored.

In developing methodologies for technical descriptions of software-based artworks the project will draw on a number of fields, including techniques from computer science, digital preservation and digital forensics. This research represents the first detailed technical study of software-based art to be based on the use of such analytical methods applied to the software, systems and media on which they were developed and delivered. The knowledge created by the project will support conservation of Tate’s current and future collection of software-based art and contribute to the refinement of conservation methods for these artworks, as well as making a major contribution to research, in both theoretical and practical terms, in digital preservation.

The dissertation supervisors are Dr Mark Hedges (Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London) and Dr Pip Laurenson (Head of Collection Care Research, Tate). The student will join the research teams at King’s and Tate engaged in the four year EU-funded research project PERICLES (2013 – 2017), of which King’s is the coordinator. In the second year the student will be based for some of the time at the time-based media conservation department in south London.

Candidates may come from a variety of relevant backgrounds, including conservation, digital preservation, digital humanities, information science, computer science or curatorial practice. Appropriate training will be provided by the host institutions, to fill any gaps in the candidate’s background knowledge. It is, however, important that candidates have an interest in and at least a basic knowledge of digital technologies, as well as an interest in contemporary art practice. The deadline for applications is 31 May 2014.

Eligibility criteria

  • Open to residents of the following countries: European Union, United Kingdom
  • We invite applications from candidates from a range of different backgrounds, which may include conservation, digital preservation, digital humanities, information science, computer science or curatorial practice. Successful applicants will normally have a good first degree (at least 2.1, or international equivalent) in a relevant field, and will have obtained or be currently working towards a Masters degree at Merit level (or international equivalent) in a relevant field. If English is not a candidate’s native language, he or she will also need to satisfy the English language entry requirements of King’s College London.
  • Please note that the award is subject to the AHRC’s terms, to which applicants should refer before applying (see the Research Funding Guide at the bottom of this page on the AHRC websitehttp://www.ahrc.ac.uk/Funding-Opportunities/Postgraduate-funding/Pages/Postgraduate%20funding.aspx). Note that non-EU students are not eligible for AHRC awards (except under specific circumstances) and EU students need to assess whether they are eligible for fees and maintenance or fees only. Details of current maintenance and fee rates can be found on the ‘Current Research Awards’ page on the AHRC website (http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/Funding-Opportunities/Postgraduate-funding/Pages/Current-award-holders.aspx).
  • Applicable subjects: Digital humanities

Value of award

Subject to AHRC residency terms & conditions either a full (fees + stipend) or fees-only studentship

Application procedure

Applicants should apply by email to Dr Mark Hedges at mark.hedges@kcl.ac.uk, attaching: (i) a full CV; (ii) a research proposal of no more than 1,000 words, outlining the particular area or approach to this subject that they would like to undertake; (ii) transcripts of university qualifications; (iv) details of two referees; (v) if relevant, proof of English language proficiency, by 31 May 2014.

Applicants should ensure that the referees email their references in the form of a letter to mark.hedges@kcl.ac.uk by 31 May 2014. The responsibility for ensuring that references are received by the deadline rests with the candidates. Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts (references sent from personal/private email accounts will not be accepted unless in the form of a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee).

Contact details

If you have any queries or would like to discuss this opportunity before applying, please contact Dr Mark Hedges at mark.hedges@kcl.ac.uk.

Funding provider

Department of Digital Humanities King’s College London.

Please note the database is updated regularly but is a guide only and not a guarantee of funding nor an exhaustive list of all funding available.