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.

 

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DataMatters Interview Series: Biome Arts

Biome Arts started the way that many things do—by asking questions. What would happen if we combined this with that? What would happen if I bring my talents into your field? And in the case of Biome Arts, what would happen if we bring the visual, the digital, the sonic, and the sociopolitical into our art practices? What could we create then? The Biome Arts collective was founded in 2014 by Sally Bozzuto, Saito Group, and Chihao Yo and brings together writers, artists, designers, engineers, architects, and activists whose work speaks to the ways that art, technology, and social justice intersect.

The result of the collective’s collaborations has been two large-scale installations that live at the junction of technology, art, and activism. Their first project was Eco_Hack 2014, which included the structure The Forest Pavilion. This structure served as a multimedia gathering and performance space that also housed several interactive, immersive digital and data art installations.

This year, the team is back with Eco_Hack 2016. They are in the process of constructing Greenhouse Theater aboard the floating food-forest and art installation, Swale. This space, like The Forest Pavilion, will function as a central hub on the project and will also serve as the data center for the space collecting, visualizing, and projecting data gathered from the plants growing aboard.

I met with four of the members of the collective to talk about their upcoming project, data privacy, and how they’ve melded technology, activism, and art into their practices.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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DataMatters Interview Series: InvestigateWest's Lee van der Voo

Data is changing our world. It’s changing the way we make sense of the world, the way we interact with one another, and the way we work. Arguably, there’s been no field as affected by the changes in data accessibility, management, and presentation as journalism. Where data sources used to be row upon row of file cabinets, they have now become row upon row of Excel spreadsheets, and what those spreadsheets have become is a story. Those data sources, and the all of the visual and interactive ways they’re presented, have become a way for people to engage with news and better understand its effect on their lives. News consumers have begun to expect dynamic storytelling that uses the rapidly growing amount of technology to breathe life into stories, and journalism is responding.

I spoke to Portland, Oregon-based journalist Lee Van der Voo, who also serves as the Managing Director of the non-profit journalism organization InvestigateWest about open data, journalism’s approaches to technology, and how data-driven journalism is helping us “get at deeper truths about the world.”

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Open Data to the Rescue

President Barack Obama delivers remarks to press pool after a meeting with members of the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, March 2, 2015. (Official White House by Chuck Kennedy)
President Barack Obama delivers remarks to press pool after a meeting with members of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, March 2, 2015. (Official White House by Chuck Kennedy)

 

The accessibility of open data has made its use possible in so many fields, from policing, to commuting patterns, to jazz music. It’s making our world more understandable and more connected. Its latest use comes from Ben Wellington from the blog I Quant NY. Using NYC’s Open Data Portal, Ben was able to find how many drivers in NYC were being ticketed for parking in legal spaces.

A little-known 2008 law allowed drivers to park in front of sidewalk pedestrian ramps that weren’t connected to a crosswalk. Unfortunately, Ben and many like him found tickets on their cars despite parking in perfectly legal spots.

I’ve got a pedestrian ramp leading to nowhere particular in the middle of my block in Brooklyn, and on occasion I have parked there.  Despite the fact that it is legal, I’ve been ticketed for parking there.  Though I get the tickets dismissed, it’s a waste of everybody’s time. And that got me wondering- How common is it for the police to give tickets to cars legally parked in front of pedestrian ramps?  It couldn’t be just me…

Using the city’s open data, Ben was able to find out it wasn’t just him; he found 1.7 million dollars in fines were levied against cars that were legally parked. So what does that mean for the good people parking on the streets of New York? Well, because of Ben’s work it actually means that something might change. In a response from the NYPD it was noted:

[T]he department sent a training message to all officers clarifying the rule change and has communicated to commanders of precincts with the highest number of summonses, informing them of the issues within their command.

Thanks to this analysis and the availability of this open data, the department is also taking steps to digitally monitor these types of summonses to ensure that they are being issued correctly.

Here it is, open data and transparency in action. Very exciting.

Check out the data and Ben’s mapping project on the ticketing hotspots at I Quant NY.

 

Making Public Data Accessible

We’re living in an age of open data. Every day, new swaths of information are made available to us in any number of ways from crime statistics to marriage rates. And while it’s important that this information is available, what does it really mean for the public? If the available data then requires a trained eye to decipher and then tell the stories behind the numbers, is that data really public? It’s available, yes, but available and accessible are wildly different things.

Enter DataUSA.

DataUSA, a project housed at the M.I.T. Media Lab, is providing the public with comprehensive state data and accompanying visualizations on an open-source platform:

Cesar A. Hidalgo, an assistant professor of media arts and sciences at the M.I.T. Media Lab who led the development of Data USA, said the website was devised to “transform data into stories.”

Continuing reading at New York Times