Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Data-Driven Art: For an 'Overwhelmed' 'Hive Mind???'

"Decode Exhibition Points Way to Data-Driven Art"
Underwire, Wired (January 25, 2010)

"The cryptic works on display at London's Decode: Digital Design Sensations exhibition manipulate raw data as a kind of virtual pigment, finding form and fun amid the sensory overload that threatens to overwhelm the 21st-century hive mind.

"Several exhibition pieces showcased at Victoria and Albert Museum depend on human presence to produce their full effect. A motion-detecting eyeball, for examples, blinks each time a visitor blinks. In another piece, a video screen enables visitors to 'paint' smears of color through the power of their gyrations...."


"Hive mind?!"

I'll get back to that.

Some of the data-driven art is - weird. That "motion-detecting eyeball," for example. Some looks like fun, like a virtual dandelion with attached hair dryer. And some is quite easy to look at, like "Flight Patterns," a video "based on 24 hours of airplane tracking data provided by the Federal Aviation Administration." The picture above is a thumbnail of a still from that video.

The Wired article explains why the Decode: Digital Design Sensations exhibition was put together:

"...'Decode is about demystifying the black art or magic of digital while showing that this work can be poetic, emotional and poignant,' show co-curator Shane R.J. Walter told in an e-mail interview. Walter, creative director for the OneDotZero digital arts site, said the exhibition pieces 'highlight issues in our everyday lives such as the overabundance of information and how we deal with this through data visualization.' The Decode artists, he writes, 'use code as a material to work with just as sculptors work with clay.'..."

Okay: That's clear enough.

But, again:
  • "Overwhelmed?"
  • "Hive mind?"
  • "Demystifying the"
    • "Black art"
    • "Magic of digital?"
    • "Overabundance of information?"

"Overwhelmed" by Data? Are You Kidding??

Sure, I've read about how we have too much data to deal with: but I haven't experienced it myself. My problem, generally, is finding enough data, fast enough.

"Overwhelmed"? Hardly. For me, it's more "frustrated" at how comparatively little there is available sometimes, even now.

Sheets of paper with ink on them was pretty close to the ultimate in random-access data storage and retrieval system when I was growing up: and the codex form of books is still a pretty good technology.

But these days I'm able to get more data, faster, than before. Sure, a lot of what's online is tripe: but so is a lot of what's been published the old-fashioned way. That's where research and analysis skills come in.

I don't mind being able to get weather information straight from the National Weather Service: not relayed by some guy on the radio. Like yesterday, when I posted this in another blog:I suppose it's like me and art. I've drawn and painted since my teens: and started working with digital art as soon as the software got down into my price range.

Granted, having the sense of touch in six of my ten fingers go offline several years ago had an effect: but I was 'going digital' before that happened.

There's so much more you can do, faster, more precisely, with software. Like the light and shade in that illustration for Halloween I did for 2007.

And no: the computer isn't making the art, any more that Rembrandt's brushes made his paintings. It's a tool.

My oldest daughter, on the other hand, only uses digital art techniques when she has to. She much prefers traditional tools. I don't think she's "overwhelmed," though.

"Hive Mind?" What Hive Mind?

I suppose it's spooky, the realization that people can communicate with each other, all over the world, providing that they speak the same language. Even that's not a strict requirement, but it helps: the automatic translation tools are helpful, but come up with gibberish fairly often. They have artificial intelligence, but not very.

Where was I? Communication. People. Spooky. Right.

This isn't the 'good old days,' where a few well-heeled people were able to travel around and gawk at the natives, and write about their experiences for the benefit of others of the better sort.

Quite a lot has changed.

Literacy isn't the rarity it was, not all that long ago. For America, about 99% of folks 16 years old and up can read and write. Not well, maybe, always,: but we can. It's 99% for Japan, too. We could do better, of course. Liechtenstein as a literacy rate of 100%.

Television was a 'threat to individuality' in my younger days. Because, I suppose, millions of people could be watching the same show at the same time.

Then came the Internet and the Web - why, these days, just about anybody can take pictures, write - and get noticed. If they've got something to say, there's a good chance that many others will notice them.

But is that a "hive mind?" Maybe not.

I see it as an opportunity for a great many people to get together and share ideas.

I'm not "overwhelmed," either.

Like I wrote, in another blog:

"Knowledge is Power: and I Like Power"

"Many of the ideas put forward online don't pass the 'stink test,' and fail in the marketplace of ideas. Others succeed.

"The great thing about the Information Age is that people can publish their ideas. Even if those ideas don't sit well with
  • "Established academics
  • "Yankee gentlemen
  • "Publishing executives
"To someone who became comfortable with the well-regulated flow of information that a previous generation experienced, today's world of blogs and uncontrolled websites must seem like chaos.

"I like it.

"I also like individual freedom.

"And I like the way that the Information Age has opened by giving 'power to the people:' the power of individuals to enter the marketplace of ideas, even if their views aren't approved by the old gatekeepers...."
(Knowledge is Power: and I Like Power, in "DC Gun Ban, Online Censorship, Individual Rights, and Power to the People," Another War-on-Terror Blog (June 27, 2008))

Data-Driven Art? Cool!

Although I don't know how many people are really "overwhelmed" by the "hive mind," Decode: Digital Design Sensations looks like a lot of fun.

And probably is a taste of what my grandchildren will think is 'the same old thing.'

The technology probably won't be quite the same, of course. Think about it: how long has it been, since you heard a theremin being played?

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