The below is from the ARCADE feature/essay "Data Culture" in the spring 2015 issue of ARCADE. The feature/essay has been releasing online in installments. "Data Culture" Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 discuss the rise of data and its cultural impact. This post is the second of five which explore the use of data in the arts (read "Data as Narrative"). Subscribe to our e-newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for notice of future posts.—ARCADE
"The rise of data is disrupting the core of our society, impacting us deeply as both individuals and members of communities. Throughout history, frictions created as societies undergo change have spurred innovative responses in the arts. New artistic forms and statements examine the fabric of society as well as the role of the individual, and the artist, within it. The arts, and more broadly, all manner of cultural production, provide ways for society to process change. One particularly poignant example is the Italian futurist movement, which preceded the Bauhaus and modernism in its celebration of technology and the machine at the height of the industrial era. A more recent example is net art, an art form leveraging the web as a distribution channel and a response to the proliferation of the Internet. Poised as we are today at the dawn of the information era, we are witnessing the coalescence of another movement — data art.
In the coming weeks, we'll be sharing a series of posts — "Data as Narrative," "Data as Mirror," "Data as Truth," "Data as Equalizer" and "Data as Interface" — which will focus on the use of data in the arts to generate new forms of creative output as well as critique our data driven world. Despite the issues that data presents, many of the following projects represent the unexpected moments of humanity that arise from quantification. The work speaks to a shared human condition and proposes questions and observations that may help us come to terms with our changing society."
Data as Mirror
Data can reveal things about us that we didn’t know were there. Quantification can provide evidence, which causes us to see our own behaviors from a different perspective. Data can act as the bridge between our inner and outer selves, allowing us to see and measure the impact we have on our surroundings and the people in our lives. This can be enlightening and sometimes uncomfortable as we discover things about ourselves that may be difficult to acknowledge. The following projects use data to cast reflections of ourselves relative to the world, bringing to the surface points of connection between individuals.
Time Scan Mirror, 2004
Daniel Rozin, media artist and associate art professor at the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) at New York University, creates reactive installations and sculptures that respond to the viewer’s presence. His “software mirrors” reflect an image of the viewer in a variety of media, from wood to metal, causing focus to shift from the reflected subject matter to the technique used to scan and recreate the environment. Time Scan Mirror investigates time through the process of scanning a single vertical line of whatever crosses in front of the piece. The scanned line, one pixel in width, is continuously shifted horizontally, creating a visual log roughly 30 seconds in length.
Quotidian Record, 2012
Through exploring alternative geographies and experimental music, media artist Brian House aims to deconstruct and make sense of what’s happening in the world.
House’s Quotidian Record is a manifestation of his interest in the rhythms of everyday life. A limited-edition vinyl recording, the piece translates an entire, continuous year of the artist’s location data into music. Each rotation of the record is one day’s worth of data, and a full year takes approximately eleven minutes to play. House created harmonies representing each place using latitude/longitude data. As places are converted into sound, routine translates to higher consonance.
House gathered the data for Quotidian Record via OpenPaths, an online service from the New York Times that allows users to track their locations via a mobile app. OpenPaths, to which House contributed, was created to give people back agency over their personal location data, otherwise stored, analyzed and monetized by corporations, while the individuals it belongs to have only limited control. Quotidian Record capitalizes on the notion of agency through a highly personal and surprisingly resonant application that maps physical location to abstract data to sound, juxtaposing the tangible and intangible, the digital and analog.
Antony Raijekov and Katharina Köller
10VE is an audiovisual composition for two performers that converts and quantifies body signals, measuring how the individuals respond to each other as well as being in front of a live audience. During the performance, Austrian artist Antony Raijekov and performer Katharina Köller sit on stage, their backs turned to the audience. A custom apparatus tracks each performer’s biosignals and translates them into sound and image. The performers’ heart rates and other biosignals drive audible, rhythmic beats and sounds and a projection of oscillating waveforms, while movements in the audience are similarly captured via a motion detection system and turned into sound.
In 10VE the performers’ bodily states are both the result of the act of performing as well as the show itself. The piece makes visible the emotional state shared between the audience and the performers as each influences the other. By measuring these “psychophysical” processes, 10VE also raises the question regarding the agency that data affords, in that it not only documents behaviors but also facilitates behavioral change. Here, that cycle is taken to the extreme, creating a real-time feedback loop and a confluence of synergistic forces that exemplify the visceral impact that data can have.
iCal / uCal, 2012–2013
As stated on his website, the work of Dutch artist Willem Besselink investigates “natural laws and man-made rules, the regularities of the world and the exceptions to them.” These parameters shape Besselink’s art; he avoids making decisions based on his own subjective impulses, embracing work that quantifies his behaviors or external conditions, both of which result from structures present in the world.
iCal is a series of 52 paintings capturing the artist’s daily activities, week by week, throughout 2012, meticulously documented using the iCal application. Activities are color coded according to six categories. In a parallel series, uCal, Besselink created paintings from similar data for 41 individuals, each based on a week of his or her choice. Together, both series visualize 2012 through recorded activities, enabling the comparison between individuals and how they spent their time. In the data’s overlaps and differences, Besselink’s work highlights patterns that define how our days are structured, describing the ways we choose to spend our time, not only as individuals, but also in a larger community.
Pockets Full of Memories, 2003–2007
Pockets Full of Memories is a participatory installation dealing with the topic of memory through the lens of an archive. Created by George Legrady, professor of interactive media and director of the Experimental Visualization Lab at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the installation reflects the voice of a community.
Visitors digitally photograph objects in their possession and add descriptions through a data collection station. The project’s database, initially empty, fills over time as visitors add images. The archive is displayed on a large projection surface, and objects are continuously reorganized based on similarities defined by visitor descriptions and visualized according to several views, including their reorganization over time.
The result is a record of the exhibition, a specific event, including the visitor participants who are represented by the objects they chose to contribute. The piece forms a collective portrait built from personal memorabilia, yielding a unique composition every time the installation is shown. By creating a database of objects and associations, the piece demonstrates that the things we own constitute part of not only our individual but also our collective identity.
The next post exploring data art, "Data as Truth," will release 14 July.
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