Day 2, Stream 4



George Legrady: University of California, Santa Barbara, US


Tega Brain: University of Technology, Australia

Tom Schofield: Culture Lab, Newcastle University, UK

Ann Finegan: Kandos Projects, Boston University, Australia

Brian House: The New York Times Research and Development Lab, US

Sarah Waterson: University of Western Sydney, Australia

Drew Hemment: FutureEverything/Lancaster University, UK



Tega Brain Environmental Data as Sensory Experience: Redesigning the Human-Infrastructure Interface

You know what they say about big data? Even bigger data visualisations. Driven by the quantification of almost all of our activities and our surroundings, data visualisation has emerged as a significant category of contemporary creative work. Visualisations typically present information with an agenda for catalysing changes in behaviour or practice, yet this activist agenda assumes a direct relationship between information and action, a relationship that has broken down in view of complex environmental issues and climate change. Contemporary climate change demonstrates that the production of information is often just one small part of what is required to motivate inconvenient change on both an individual and societal scale.

This paper explores this problem of information visualisation by discussing the informatic strategies deployed in the installation artwork, What the Frog’s Nose tells the Frog’s Brain. This work translates real-time electricity data into a sensory experience. Experimenting with smell, information is produced through the olfactory experience of the viewer. Smell is a primal mode of communication from which it is difficult to be intellectually distanced. By manifesting electricity information in this way, this work not only explores the mechanics of perceiving information, but also suggests new possibilities for designing a more responsive human-infrastructure interface.


 Brian House OpenPaths: empowering personal geographic data

The collection of personal geographic data from mobile devices is a ubiquitous practice of service providers and application developers. These data are being stored, analyzed, and monetized primarily by corporate interests; there is limited agency for individuals over their own data. Awareness among the public regarding the value of their personal data is nascent. OpenPaths, created by the Research and Development Lab at the New York Times Company, is a platform and a model and a platform that demonstrates the collective value of personal data sovereignty. It was developed in response to widespread media coverage of the obfuscated but accessible location record generated by all Apple iOS devices. OpenPaths participants store their encrypted geographic data in a cloud infrastructure while maintaining ownership and programatic control. Projects of many kinds, from mobility research to expressive artwork, petition individuals for access to their data in exchange for a stake in the outcome of the project. Ultimately, we would like to activate the practice of “participatory sensing” on a large scale in a way that self-regulates the creation of ad-hoc geographic datasets. Furthermore, within a theoretical context, OpenPaths moves beyond locative media’s primary concerns with connectivity, the coupling of data to place, and spatial representation to address the components of an ethical implementation of crowd-sourced geographic systems in the age of “big data”. How can we seat the individual in a mode of control over personal geographic narratives in a society in which locative media has become banal?


Tom Schofield Repeating the Past: Lessons for Critical Data Visualisation from the History of Computer Art

This paper will explore the development of critical discourse in computer art of the 1960s and 1970s. It will then assess what parallels can be found to assist the still developing discussions which are emerging around data visualisation practices.

Data visualisation is both a language and context of representation and communication which has enjoyed a recent explosion out of its traditional fields of statistics and analysis into areas as diverse as advocacy, journalism, design and art. Recent accounts [Viégas and M. Wattenberg 2007] have highlighted a lack of critical discourse around visualisation. This lack implies that this is an area with the exciting potential to develop new implications and, potentially, directions for the field. There is also however, a risk that such a rapid expansion overlooks existing contributions, both theoretical and practical.

In the midst of this scramble for academic territory, what lessons can be learned from the past? The application of methods or technology to new fields is not a new phenomenon and media art can look to its own history to draw some parallels. For example, studies have examined the computer art of the 1960s and 1970s in particular to document the emergence of critical discourses (Brown, Gere et al 2008, Alt 2011). Such discourses were to a large degree born from the disciplines to which practitioners in this field belonged: the fine arts, computer science, engineering and to some degree, philosophy (in the case of Burnham). What legacy does this lineage leave for the domain and to what degree were such epistemologies useful?

This paper will examine the circumstances, relationships and technologies, which supported the development of a robust critical discourse for this period and ask what lessons can be drawn for the contemporary circumstances of data visualisation.


Ann Finegan & Ann Morrison The data wars: protest is increasingly an affair of incommensurables

In a world in which all entities are seemingly subsumed into the flow of data – economics, the real, things, money, people – under the various exchanges of Big – Big Mining, Big Capital, Big Economics – the resistance of protest often goes unheeded – people failing to call to account or articulate their protest in the commensurable terms of data. Protesters might be big in numbers, and ideas, but can they ever match the numbers – the plain simple data of economics – on which Big Decisions are based?
This provocation is about data-incommensurables in the protest game, where no matter how many online signatures, how many people in the street, the people will lose always to the lobbyists with their portfolios of data, and advantageous economic balance sheets. Big Mining it seems has the monopoly on water data, people data [how many new jobs created], production and profit. It is not in its interest to count the jobs and productivity lost as Big Mining buys up farms and ruins the water, the tourism, or raises rents. Local councils do not keep this data; all they can do is comment on various compliances, they might even protest with their constituents, but they have only energy and angst and are inevitably defeated because they cannot make a compelling case in data terms. Data costs money and technological access to reap, costs which billion dollar trans-national companies with billion dollar super profits can collate. The people, the protesters, the local councils, are data-poor, and need new wikis, new modes of data collection, in order to have a commensurate say when the Big Miners and Frackers put their proposals before State Government Ministers.

This provocation is a call to data mapping, to match the Big Mining and Big Economics at their game.


Sarah Waterson Data Ecologies: data-mapping as a representational strategy for communicating complexity and developing poetic systems of knowledge making.

Today the affordances of contemporary data representations and presentations allow for the reading of complex relational works, which I am classifying as data ecologies. Data ecologies can be performed with and across spatio-temporal networks of relations, and can be understood as assemblages of the agentic quality of flow. Data ecologies connect with the rise of statistical thinking throughout the 19th century, and developments in technology into the 20th and 21st centuries.

In this paper data mapping and data mining strategies are explored to develop a concept of data ecologies in interactive, reactive and generative new media works. These are located in current debates and discourse about representation (Visualisation/Software Studies) and intersect with concepts about the politics of representation in new media contexts. De Landa’s (2006) perspective on the assemblage including the material role, expressive role, territorialisation and deterritorialisation aids as a starting point for locating the conceptual practice of using data streams as an ecology for producing emergent behaviours, patterns and affect. These flows allow for more complex readings and presentations than traditional data visualisation.

To advance how this new representational strategy performs, recent data ecology artworks are reviewed. Data ecologies enable a productive approach to thinking through non- Cartesian representations, from the flatness of data to the Baroque. Ultimately this paper advocates data ecologies as a representational strategy appropriate to an era of post-media aesthetics.


Drew Hemment, Moritz Stefaner, Stephan Thiel emoto – Truth and Beauty in the Data Dimension

This paper will explore how creative expression and meaning can be generated out of the everyday interactions of millions of people. Specifically it will explore how data visualisation is a creative practice based upon being ‘true’ to its materials of data and code. And by documenting the challenges and barriers encountered in the creation of a major data visualisation artwork for London 2012, it will also highlight the distance between the rhetoric of openness in today’s social media world, and the reality of limits placed on access and creative reuse when the social web is dominated by a small number of corporate players.

Data Visualisation is an emergent area of design and art practice. It seeks to make visible the ever-expanding dimension of data which overlays our everyday. In recent years, a particular variation of the practice has emerged — one in which artists engage creatively with code, not only to reveal hidden truths but also as part of the pursuit of beauty. Research in this area can examine the novel and interesting techniques for data capture and representation, or how data visualisation contributes to the reordering of society in a data-driven age.