Inside – Bruno Latour’s Gaiagraphic View

As part of the ‘French Natures’ conference-festival hosted by NYU, Bruno Latour’s awaited piece ‘Inside’ premiered in the US last week on Friday at The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre in New York City . A 60 minute long lecture-performance which has toured across several cities in Europe, Latour calls it a theatrical thought experiment. Directed by Frédérique Aït-Touati, his long time collaborator in research and theater work, ‘Inside’ asks one of the most pertinent question of our times –

how we can rethink our relationship to the planet in times of environmental catastrophe.

Humans have long thought they walk on a globe, on the Globe. But in recent years, geochemists have shown us a completely different planet, by turning attention to the “critical zone,” this thin surface film of Earth where water, soil, subsoil and the world of living beings interact. If this area is critical, it is because life, human activities, and their resources are concentrated there. – French Natures

A version of the performance filmed in February 2018 in Frankfurt, Germany

The production of ‘Inside’ Latour saysoffers alternative visualizations  which allows to shift from a planetary vision of places located in the geographic grid, to a representation of events located in what we call a Gaiagraphic view.’

In her New York Times portrait on Latour’s work, Ava Kofman speaks to his post-truth philosophy:

In our current environmental crisis, he continued, a new image of the earth is needed — one that recognizes that there is no such thing as a view from nowhere and that we are always implicated in the creation of our view.

Learn more about Inside’s Premiere here.

Listening to a Glacier on a Warm Summer Day

Photo: Brett Gilmour, © 2018

In June, CDA Director Ben Rubin and Data Artist Jer Thorpe completed Herald/Harbinger, a work of light, movement, and sound that unfurls from the south lobby of Calgary’s Brookfield Place, extending outdoors into the open tree-lined plaza.

The plaza at Brookfield Place, Calgary. Photo: James Brrittain, © 2017

Heralding the ascent of Earth’s Anthropocene period, Herald / Harbinger speaks to the interrelationship between human activity in Calgary and the natural system of the Bow Glacier in the Canadian Rockies.

The artwork’s story begins about 160 miles west of Calgary, where the Bow Glacier melts, cracks and shifts with changing temperatures, existing in a perpetual state of physical transformation. In 2016 and 2017, the artists constructed a solar-powered seismic observatory at the edge of the glacier. There, they installed sensors that register the near constant shifting of the restless ice and feed this data in real-time to the artwork’s servers.

“Up on the mountain, when the wind wasn’t blowing, there was an eerie, complete silence. Watching the data scroll by on the screen, though, I could see that the ice was not as it appeared; that its stillness belied a quick and constant movement.” – Jer Thorp

The glacier’s movements are made visible as displacements of scan lines on an array of LED lights. Photo: Brett Gilmour, © 2018

The artwork itself is a permanent public installation that renders the glacier’s movements audible in an immersive outdoor soundscape of ice and water sound, and visible as displacements of scan lines on an array of LED lights. Inlaid patterns on the granite plaza surface map the forces pushing the Bow Glacier down from the Wapta Icefield toward the Bow lake.

“Climate Change is an abstraction. We read about it, but it’s happening too slowly for us to perceive, and so it’s hard to accept it as something that’s real and urgent. This artwork is an attempt to give a ‘voice’ to a specific glacier in the hopes of making climate change something we can hear and see — something that feels real.” – Ben Rubin

The pattern embedded in the granite plaza surface maps the forces pushing the Bow Glacier from the Wapta Ice Field down toward Bow Lake. Photo: Brett Gilmour, © 2018

As Calgary’s day gets busier and traffic levels rise, the patterns in the artwork are interrupted by the patterns of the urban life, with aggregated data from pedestrians’ footsteps and traffic sampled at 14 different locations around the city sometimes intruding upon the glacial tempo. Vehicle traffic is displayed as seven ‘roadways’ on the piece’s seven LED fixtures. Herald/Harbinger creates an encounter between Alberta’s natural systems and the city’s restive human activity, establishing a kind of conversation between these two realms.

And yet for all of its complexity, the artwork’s presence remains subtle, blending discretely into its urban surroundings even as it invites curious passersby to pause, listen, and investigate.

What Improv Storytelling has to offer to Data Artists

In 2015, Ben Wellington gave a TEDx talk on how he borrowed principles from his lifelong love for Improv Comedy and applied it to his Data Visualization practice. “I accidentally became a data storyteller,” he says.

“The Open Data Laws are really exciting for people like me because it takes data that is inside City Government, and suddenly allows anyone to look at it.”

The narrative that came out of contextualizing this data spotted zones that fervent NYC cyclists are better off avoiding and shed some light on the battle strategies of new yorkers’ favorite pharmacies. Wellington closes the distance between Data Viz and Improv by ‘Connecting with People’s Experiences’ and ‘Conveying one simple (and powerful) idea at a time’.

Alan Alda, the seven-time emmy winning actor of M*A*S*H along with Ocean and Environmental Scientist and Associate Director at The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, Dr. Christine O’Connell experimented with a group of scientists, doctors and engineers in 2016 in a workshop to employ Improv Storytelling in communicating their research.

“I think anybody that studies something so deeply, whether you’re an engineer, whether you’re an artist, whether you’re in business, you forget what it’s like not to know” – O’Connell

Empathy lies at the heart of Improv and therefore, at the heart of good communication. The idea of speaking to your audience and working with them to create a common language and evolve into clarity is especially relevant for Data Scientists and Data Artists.

The Data Artist creates an imaginary, artificial environment not dissimilar to that of an Improv actor where certain cues are visible and certain others have to be made up. The logic of this environment, however, needs to be consistent and is as important as the trust established within it.

“Even small breaks can affect credibility. – When we visualize data, we are (asking our audience to suspend their understanding of reality for a moment and accept new rules and conditions). We are asking our audience to understand shapes and forms on a digital screen to be something other than what they are.” – Ryan Morrill, Storybench, October 2017.

The Data Viz equivalent of Laughter in an Improv Comedy Scene is the deriving of Insight, says Morrill, where the logic reveals a reward.

Organic Software: An Interview with Seth Price

Dr. Anne Luther spoke with Seth Price in an email interview about http://organic.software, an online database that the artist released anonymously in 2015. It contains profiles of over 4000 art collectors that the artist accumulated alongside images of their digital portraits, street views of their private address, corporate and private affiliations and political donations, educational bio and information about their net worth. The website displays a certain performative element through its visual language, anonymity and contextualization into jargon and vocabulary of software development and algorithmic analysis linking entities of an ecosystem of actors in the artworld and their political and economic contexts. The website was discussed in multiple published articles (Texte zur Kunst, Vice, Metropolis M) and was part of an exhibition at 365 Mission Rd in LA.

Seth Price is a multi-disciplinary artist who works in a wide range of media. His work has been exhibited internationally and was included in the 2002 and 2008 Whitney Biennials,  the Venice Biennale in 2011 and dOCUMENTA (13) in 2012. His video works have been screened at the Rotterdam Film Festival; Tate Britain, London; Institute of Contemporary Art, London; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Eyebeam, New York; and Biennale de l’Image en Mouvement, Saint-Gervais, Geneva and in his latest exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum, among others. His work is included in the collections of the Kunsthaus Zürich, Zürich; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. (Seth Price biography, studio website).

Anne Luther: How did your interest to work with programmers evolve in your practice?

Seth Price: I got into in coding when i was in elementary school. There was a state-funded pilot program with donated Apple IIe computers, and over several years we learned rough concepts of programming, using Terrapin Logo. Later, in sixth and seventh grade, I programmed with MSBasic and tried to teach myself C, which failed. My interest was in making video games. The interactive gaming sequence in my video Industrial Synth uses the actual MacPaint files I made for one of these games in 1986. I took a class in C+ in college. But my brain is not built for math, or numbers, or that kind of abstract quantitative thinking! I can’t conceive of a calendar, or keep track of dates, or do simple computations. So I sucked at coding. For this site I hooked up with some people who knew what they were doing.

AL: You talked in an article in Texte zur Kunst about the project becoming a work of art a year and a half after you released the website anonymously. That’s when you put your name into the FAQ section, a signature of sorts. Would you ever release the algorithm or code that was developed for the work?

SP: Once, we released a Continuous Project issue that was the content of the HTML from our website. In this case, the piece is really about the site as a kind of experience (though there definitely was also a performative element in staging it as an anonymously created object.) I wouldn’t want to focus on the code.

AL: Could you describe why you chose to build a website that shows the data in its current form? I am interested in the choices of distribution, organization and access of the data. Would you release the data as open data or would you allow other individuals to scrape your website or work with an API of sorts?

SP: I feel like I walked away from the project. It’s an abandoned construction site. I’d be hesitant to get involved again, because I feel distant from it now. But it was definitely made to be a standalone site, a place, a kind of location, with a visual language and a feeling. That was as important as the data. This was not just about publicizing the data, or I wouldn’t have made it anonymous. Anonymity really works against any sort of socially conscious idea.

AL: You mentioned on the website that you are working on further development of the tool and other data sets. Is the work a ‘work in progress’ or in other words do you use the information in future works or are you developing any other collaborations that are data-driven/informed by large scale digital data collection?

SP: That whole anonymous ‘About’ page was fictional — the bad grammar, everything. I was never planning to develop the project any further, that was just part of the fiction of a North Korean/Iranian/Russian hacker working on some insane software project.

AL:  Was this work made with an ideal ‘use case’ in mind?

SP: I didn’t think about that. It was an experiment, an opening up of possibility. I now know that the ideal case, realistically speaking, is probably people who work at galleries or auction houses using the comments section to trade anecdotes about collectors.

AL: Organic Software links individuals, to their context of wealth and their affiliations in the art world. Do you consider this work as a form of institutional critique? Two works come to mind that also speak about art collectors and their wealth context and that are shown in galleries and are part of museums collections that they critique: Hans Haacke’s Shapolsky Et Al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, A real-time social system, as of May 1, 1971 and Andrea Fraser’s ACTIONS! Countdown from 2013, a slideshow that shows collectors, their political involvement and wealth context and their ‘role’ in the art world.

SP: I did talk to Andrea Fraser while I was working on it, and she told me about the project she was developing, though I don’t know if it had a form yet. She was speaking of it as a book in development, which still sounds great. We were going to compare notes and hook up, but it never happened. I don’t think of this as institutional critique. I tried to design the site in a specific way, so that it wouldn’t read as a social justice project, or internet art, or institutional critique. It was supposed to be blank, odd, and unplaceable. That was as important as the content: make a website that has actual useful information, but the framing is so weird and unplaceable that it doesn’t make sense.  So it’s context art, if you want to place it, but all of my work is a kind of context art, in that sense. It would be similar to the way I would make a painting or a sculpture: explore a language and existing situation, yielding a feeling, and a kind of possibility, and an unknowing, or a lack of sense. I don’t make art with a motivation or a concept or an idea in mind, and this was similar.

AL: A space outside or inside the art world that allows a critical voice towards the financial context of institutions and galleries is hard to define and carve in the current complexity of contemporary art. You talked about a sort of hypocrisy describing the project. Can you talk about this seemingly contradicting motivation for building and releasing the dataset as a work of art?

SP: The hypocrisy would come from someone who thought I am condemning a system, or individuals, while benefiting from it, and I recognize that’s a risk in making something like this. But I don’t think of myself as a critical voice, in doing this. This is more like a self portrait.

AL:  Can you talk about your motivation to build this website – was it motivated by changing the art world’s embeddedness in a current political, economic context or rather to make this embeddedness known in a more tangible and large scale manner?

SP: No, it was personal. Just exploring a feeling. I figure I could never change much in the way you’re talking.

AL: Has your understanding of the information that we find on the website changed in the past year (first year of the Trump administration)?

SP: I don’t think so.

AL: Is there an ideal scenario for the use of the tool for you or was there a certain urgency that informed the conceptualization and production of the work?

SP: You know, there was an urgency, actually, I forgot about this. The urgency was because in 2013 or ‘14 I learned that one of my galleries had sold a work of mine to an Israeli state museum, which I would not have allowed if I’d been asked. But then you get all sorts of questions: maybe museums and art represent the best in an otherwise objectionable state, or at least the possibility of dialogue and expansion and awareness. And then there’s the fact that any fortune is tied to objectionable behavior; many collectors have made their monies in “impure” ways. So I thought it might be good to have a place where one could at least do preliminary research. That was the impetus to start the project. Again, it was personal.

AL: How was the tool perceived in your group of peers? Did anybody use the tool as a frame of reference for changing their access to art works or affiliations to museums?

SP: I have no idea. I think it has been most helpful as a kind of basic ‘Face Book’ where people can see what a certain collector looks like, or go through the Faces page and say, ‘Oh, there’s that guy who was at dinner the other night, let’s find out who he is.’ Social reconnaissance, really. But that’s cool.

Evolution of the Data Artist

Defining Data Art is tricky. And for good reason. The mediascape that breathes around us is a terrain that shifts, distorts and transforms before it can be drawn. In such a space, defining can only be limiting. Jacoba Urist, in his comprehensive article in The Atlantic in 2015 explored the multifarious ways of the Data Artist.

Art is as much a product of the technologies available to artists as it is of the sociopolitical time it was made in, and the current world is no exception. A growing community of “data artists” is creating conceptual works using information collected by mobile apps, GPS trackers, scientists, and more.

                                                      Liberté (1963) – Joaquim Rodrigo 

In a series called Moodjam, (Laurie) Frick took thousands of Italian laminate countertop samples from a recycling center and created a series of canvases and billboard-sized murals based on her temperament … Frick is adamant that her work is about more than simply visualizing information—that it serves as a metaphor for human experience, and thus belongs firmly in the art world.

As Urist deftly puts it – working with (this) data isn’t just a matter of reducing human beings to numbers, but also of achieving greater awareness of complex matters in a modern world. Fast forward to two years later, Cynthia Andrews speaks about the role of Context in Data Art.

If you look at neural networks created by scientists with a creative eye you might see it as art. If you take it out of context, it could be a subway map or a series of rivers. It could be anything. It’s the non-creative context in which things are placed that makes people think they aren’t be considered art.

Andrews expands on a specific genre of Data Art that Urist mentions –

Artists influenced by self-tracking.

‘Waiting for Earthquakes’ by Moon Ribas. She has a sensor embedded into her skin that, using seismic data, vibrates every time there is an earthquake in the world, from anywhere, any magnitude. ‘Waiting for Earthquakes’ is a performance piece in which she literally just stands on stage and waits for an earthquake to happen and then interprets the feeling that she gets into movement. I don’t know if she considers it data art, but I do.

And then, there are artists like Shelita Burke, a pop musician who decided to use Blockchain and Music Metadata to not only get paid on time – but to organize a centralized system for distributing royalties across the production spectrum to the producers and writers involved.

Burke thinks it also has something to do with her use of data to her advantage, like when she determined  that 90 days was the perfect time to release new music in order to keep fans engaged.

“I really believe that every artist needs to understand data” Burke says.

Data Matters Interview Series: Kiersten Nash

Designer, artist, and educator Kiersten Nash likes asking questions. Asking the right questions has changed a lot for her, and getting the people who engage with her work to ask questions, too, is a big part of why she does the work she does. The question she’s been asking lately is “How can we raise awareness about groundwater?” She and her colleagues in the design collective Public Works Collaborative have been attempting to answer that through their recently completed project Livestream.

Livestream, an interactive sound sculpture installed in Lexington, KY’s Jacobson Park, is a project designed to get people asking questions about water—where it’s coming from, what’s in it, how is it being monitored. It isn’t just an artwork, though, Livestream is designed to actively monitor the state’s groundwater using a custom designed toolkit. This first iteration of the project, featuring sounds composed by musician Ben Sollee, “translates data measuring each spring’s conductivity, temperature and flow into sound.” I spoke to Kiersten recently about Livestream, her design process, and how “[un]learning” can be the key to asking the right question.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

 

Continue reading “Data Matters Interview Series: Kiersten Nash”

Classic Album Covers, Redesigned

If you asked me, at least if you asked me today this very second, I would say that my favorite album cover is, without a doubt Marvin Gaye’s I Want You. It may just be the gold standard in album art. This cover has movement, it has life. I can hear the music before I even press play. There’s something ecstatic about it. Each body curving into the next. Arms, legs, backs twisted into expressions of joy, of freedom. It tells you something about this album, about its creator in ways that even reviews might not. Album covers do so much to elevate the work they surround. But as DJ Pangburn points out in his blog post at The Creators Project: “some truly great albums have absolute crap covers.”

Pangburn continues:

The online contemporary art store Hen’s Teeth Prints, along with This Greedy Pig and Choice Cuts, wondered what sort of album designs labels and artists would create if there were no boundaries in releasing an album from past or present.

The resultant project, Fantasy 12″, invited artists, designer, and record labels to re-imagine iconic artists’ album covers.

Artist: Donal Thornton. Album: John Coltrane ‘A Love Supreme.’

Artist: Stephen Serrato. Album: Frankie Reyes ‘Technoindigenous Studies EP No.1.’

See more images and read more about the project and the upcoming exhibit at The Creators Project.
https://www.instagram.com/p/BLYYZlhAlfL/

Unknown Histories

A few months ago, we began the early stages of re-conceptualizing the visuals for a project dedicated to preserving women’s intellectual history. How could we make this information more dynamic, more interactive, more collaborative? And, in turn, how could we make sure that this important, yet often unacknowledged history, becomes and remains a vital part of our educational standards? It’s an exciting project, for sure, but it’s also a project that reminds us that some histories aren’t as heralded as others. Names, faces, thoughts, and ideas. Movements, collectives, discoveries, and innovations. All of them here, many of them forgotten. Their works and their creations have either been relegated to footnotes, or continued on in our consciousness completely divorced from their makers.

The project’s director, New School professor Gina Luria Walker, noted in an interview with Broadly: “It’s too easy to blame the media, or blame big business, or capitalism, or white men. The issue is ancient. It is primordial.”

Simply: we don’t know these names because no one has ever told us that we needed to. But what if, from the very beginning, these names weren’t unearthed discoveries, but readily accessible knowledge? That knowledge has to come from somewhere, and it needs to start early.

——

Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky

Recently, I had the absolute pleasure of reading Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World (Ten Speed Press) written and illustrated by Rachel Ignotofsky. I suppose, that on its face, it may seem like a children’s book— it’s colorful, vividly illustrated, and contains short, easily digestible biographies of fifty women in science—it actually is perfect for the budding science-lover in your household. It would be a mistake to think that it’s only for kids, though (as evidenced by the excited ooohs and aaahs heard around the office when the book arrived). Honestly, how many us know the remarkable Annie Easley who, despite being subjected to the indignities of the Jim Crow south, went on the become a NASA engineer whose work formed the foundations for space shuttle launches? Or the work of particle physicist Sau Lan Wu who, against her father’s wishes, applied to college and later led one of the teams instrumental in observing the Higgs boson? For these names to become more recognizable, they need to be written about, read about, and spoken about by people of all ages. We can’t remember what we’ve never known.

9781607749769-1
Ten Speed Press

One of my favorite images in Ignotofsky’s book is an illustration titled “More Women in Science,” where she highlights eight additional women and provides short bios for each. But it’s the ninth figure on the page that gets me. She leaves this one in shadow, mysterious—”The next great scientist could be you!” she writes. That gets to the heart of it; these biographies do more than uncover history, they make inroads for the future. It’s not important to keep these names alive just because it’s the right thing to do (it is), it’s important because knowing them could mean the difference between a kid seeing the possibilities and, well, not. Women in Science is an important book to hand to a kid because they need to know—as soon as possible—that history includes all of us. It’s also an important book to keep for yourself because, sometimes, whatever your age, you might need a reminder of that fact, too.

Reflections on "Acoustic Ecologies"

continentIn their letter in the special issue on sound studies of journal continent. editors Jamie Allen, Lital Khaikin, and Isaac Linder contemplate the sound artist as a public artist. Sound, they argue, isn’t private. Rather, sound creates an ecology and an environment, one in which we can both choose to be a part of (i.e. music in headphones) and those which we do not (i.e. pretty much everything else). When much of our interactions with sound are an experience that we’re generally not choosing, what is the role of the sound artist? What is the role of sound that is intentional, space-specific, and intended for the public. The editors describe it this way:

We ask the question: through what devices, technologies, infrastructures and systems are the politics of public space debated? What are the mediations and interventions possible in an art involved in sound that are, in our troubled world of multitudinous crisis, necessarily addressing and controlled by states of emergency, homeland security sound systems, consumer prompting PA’s for the incentivisation of purchases and the effective affectation of Muzak.

Built around the theme of “Acoustic Ecologies,” the issue features articles from theorists and practitioners, each with unique approaches to the theme. For example, artist Gail Priest asks “What will art in the future sound like?” in her hybrid audiovisual and literature piece “Welltuned City”; artist and writer Byron Peters examines the force of sound (and silence) on networks and political movements; and Jan Philip Müller explores how radio broadcasts during the Vietnam War were spaces for resistance, compliance, points in between, and often, all angles at once.

In their letter, the editors pose an interesting question: “Yet, as with the non-death of writing that has become a hallmark of our digital age, perhaps we’re both sounding and listening now more than we ever have?” It’s an intriguing thought. Of course, the ways we listen have changed; technology has seen to that. And it’s not too much of a stretch to say that the amount we’re listening to has changed as well. As I write this, I hear the buzz of the air conditioner, the hum of electronics, the ever-present whir of the traffic below—many of those unrecognizable noise to someone occupying this space a hundred years ago. Sound is layered in every part of our days, building a particular environment for the listener. But it’s less about how these sounds are finding us, or how many of them we interact with, and more about what we do with them and how we craft our environments and actions around them. Each of us has the ability to be both listener and producer, creator and participant in our sound-rich environments. The entire issue is a remarkable look at the ways that sound artists and theorists are contemplating the role of public sound.

Work With Us!

The Center for Data Arts needs a New School student with a great sense of  typography and aesthetics to work with us on a UX/UI project. Both graduate and undergraduate considered. Please send cover letter and examples of your work to Katie Wanner (wannk858 at newschool.edu)