There seem to be a few exhibitions around at the moment – as well as one that ran for a few weeks and closed at the end of November, in Riga, called Data Drift – that look at the intersection of digital data and digital visualisations of various kinds. Maybe there’re always these sorts of exhibitions around and I just haven’t noticed them, but if there aren’t, it’s kind of interesting that I found four in the past month or so.
One’s at Somerset House in London, focussing on data and called Big Bang Data, until the end of February.
Another is called Animated Wonderworlds at the Museum fur Gestaltung Schaudepot in Zurich. It’s curated by Suzanne Buchan and runs til 10 January. I was hoping to get to this one, but my plans were scuppered so I’ve had to make do with the exhibition catalogue and a YouTube video. It’s focussed on animation rather than on digital data specifically but does include some data visualisations, and the catalogue has a great essay by Suzanne, which talks about just how pervasive digital animations are now.
And the third is at the Institute for Unstable Media (what a great name – though I guess all institutes are made of unstable media…) in Rotterdam. Its title is Data in the 21st Century and it’s on until 14 February, exploring the frictions between ‘data’ and ‘reality’, according to its homepage.
As I haven’t actually been to any of these shows, this is more of a hand-wave than a proper blog post. Interesting, though, that there’s so much work by artists, designers and digital humanists (Lev Manovich features in all but Digital Wonderlands, I think) using visualisations to interrogate data. The claim that data – especially the big data sets generated by so much of the digital infrastructure of everyday life now – is understood more easily if it’s visualised is one that’s made very often. I’m not so sure. As others (like Johanna Drucker) have worried, once data is visualised, certain questions about it are prioritised over others. A visualisation (as Suzanne Buchan argues about animations) invite affective responses, they let us “see the unseeable”, to quote Suzanne, and we can get carried away into their beautiful, glowing worlds. That can be a wonderful thing. But it also makes the robustness of the data, and the process of visualisation (both the technical process and the labour process) much harder to see, in fact. Making something visible always seems to entail making something else much less visible.