A physical data sculpture that portrays the architecture and scale of The National Archives' digital repository.
Portrait of the Dark Archive is a physical data sculpture that portrays the architecture and scale of The National Archives' digital repository as it was on 1 January 2020. On this date the repository, named the Dark Archive, held 1,426 terabytes of data containing over over one billion records. The artwork's modernist design alludes to the magnetic-core memory units of early computers, while the use of 24-carat gold references both long-held perceptions of value and high-end technology.
The sculpture is constructed from two different types of gold block, each portraying a different piece of the Dark Archive. The diminutive central cubes depict the smallest yet most complex part of the repository handled by the Digital Records Infrastructure. Digital records kept here are those that have to date been selected for ongoing managed preservation to ensure they remain accessible. In contrast, the larger surrounding gold structures represent the archive's biggest section (called Holding) where generally more uniform and stable files are stored. The final acrylic shapes symbolise the archive's technological infrastructure. These forms are inscribed with QR codes that link to an online digital map of the portrait.
Department of Digital Archiving, The National Archives, UK [ artwork creation ]
Ian Henderson and David Underdown [ TNA: dialogue & research ] . Martin McGrath [ installation design ]
Portrait of the Dark Archive v1.0 was commissioned and produced by The National Archives, UK for its [re]Encoding the Archive exhibition (Winter 2021 - Spring 2022). The artwork was acquired by the institution in 2021 to be part of its permanent art collection.