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.

Author: Surabhi Naik

Surabhi Naik is a designer and writer dedicated to Immersive Narratives & Experience Design based in New York City. Her past work ranges from conducting data-driven narrative research in urban communities in India and prototyping spatial design experiences to creative writing for different media. A graduate student in The New School’s Media Studies Program, she is currently deep-diving into Immersive Storytelling Design & Research and is the Editor of Data Matters Publication at the Center for Data Arts

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