DIT leads €4.2m European digital research project

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Professor Brian Norton, President of DIT, at the launch of DECIPHER

20th January 2011

  • DIT, IMMA and National Gallery of Ireland win multi-million European research grant
  • ‘DECIPHER’ will create links between art collections and with events in history
  • Project beats 90 research proposals to EU fund

Work has begun today on DECIPHER, a €4.2 million research project, supported by the European Union to help people learn more about art collections in museums, galleries and other cultural institutions. The project, which is being led by the DIT’s Digital Media Centre, won first place in competition with over ninety other proposals to the EU.

Congratulating the research team on their success, Professor Brian Norton, President of DIT said "This project opens up possibilities and opportunities for curators of art collections and cultural institutions that we may not even have identified yet.  To have secured such significant funding for innovation in the arts is a great achievement." 

The project involves partners from the UK, Italy and the Czech Republic as well as the National Gallery of Ireland, the Irish Museum of Modern Art and Alinari 24 ORE, the world’s oldest photographic archive.  The work will take three years and will result in exciting new technology to explore, investigate and present art, artists and collections through narrative.

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Professor Brian Norton President of DIT with Raymond Keaveney Director of the National Gallery and Enrique Juncosa, Director of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, at the DECIPHER launch

According to Eoin Kilfeather, the project’s coordinator,  “Most Irish and European cultural institutions have some sort of online presence, however one challenge for visitors is that the art works shown on museum and gallery websites tend to be isolated from each other and are then just given brief descriptions. The main reason that tours and exhibitions are often requested is that the tour guide puts the art in context and tells a story, which encompasses not just individual artworks, but the relationships between them and often gives insight into the artists’ lives. The software we are building aims to help people explore these kinds of narrative on the web.”

The DECIPHER research partners in the Czech Brno University of Technology are building the part of the system which analyses art collections, information in museum libraries and on the World Wide Web to automatically detect links between art works and artists, regardless of where the information is held. In the UK, researchers at the Open University are using “semantic web” technologies to allow curators and the public to discover hidden links between artworks, artists and the world they lived and worked in. Furthermore, the system will allow users to create “virtual collections” by asking questions like; “Is this work by Caravaggio like the work of any artists alive today?”

The Digital Media Centre will focus on developing the project’s user interfaces. These interfaces will allow the system to be used over the web and will support any type of art form to be explored, whether it is in 3D, image, sound or video.  Commenting that visitors will be able to assemble their personal collections in virtual spaces, or even hung on the walls of a virtual National Gallery and share these collections with other people online, Director Raymond Keaveney said   “We are delighted to be involved in a project that will result in new ways to explore curatorial practice and develop the potential benefits of technology for the museum sector. 

Enrique Juncosa, Director of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, is also excited by the project and its possibilities.  “Using a mobile device such as a smart phone, a person will be able to look at an artwork in IMMA and link it to the wealth of information available on-line.  Many contemporary artists now use digital technologies like video or sound, as part of their art practice. So people will be able to use DECIPHER to experience digital artworks, especially when the works are not on exhibition.  This is very exciting for a museum of modern and contemporary art like IMMA.”

One of DECIPHER’s UK partners, Systems Simulation, is a major supplier of IT systems to museums and galleries worldwide and will use the project’s results to develop new products and services.

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