RAw Data Exhibition Curated by Ashley WhamondFeatured ArtistsDi BallDaniel Della-BoscaMatt DittonKylie HicksAlan HillKelly Hussey-SmithSimone PatersonJason Nelson
Raw DataInformation Today Wikipedia has already changed the world, and with your continued support there’s no telling how much we can do for people internationally. Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. – Jimmy WalesJimmy Wales’ initial ambition for Wikipedia to become an information database to rivalEncyclopaedia Britannica is presented on the site as a service to humanity, a free body ofknowledge available to anybody with internet access. However, like most idealistic humanitarianambitions for the internet, they are quickly corrupted by the complications of the real world.The discussion pages of Wikipedia represent a fascinating archive of narrow-minded argument,unjustified bravado and insults that would be at home in any real-world school playground. Theresult is what Wikipedia hails as one of it major successes and what critics cite as its biggestproblem: consensus. Wikipedia entries are argued over, and bickered about by experts andamateurs alike until a consensus is reached, Wikipedia is happy because a result has beenachieved whereas the critics’ point is proven that consensus lacks criticality. So Wales is rightwhen he states, in the pitch for donations quoted above, that Wikipedia has changed the world.It has changed the world because it has changed our relationship with information. Though notsingle-handedly of course – the development of the Internet itself probably represented thebiggest shift in the way we understand, use and talk about information. Wikipedia is simply theobvious manifestation of these understandings, uses and discussions.The historical moment we find ourselves in has, since the late seventies, been characterised asthe ‘information age’. But what exactly does this term mean, and what are its characteristics?Wikipedia posits the development of the Internet as a major contributing factor to thischaracterisation. And it is true that the Internet has indeed lubricated the flow of information butthe idea that information is something that could actually flow between different geographicallocations and material bases predates the internet and even the modern computer by decades.In 1928 electronics researcher Ralph Hartley wrote a paper entitled “The Transmission ofInformation” in which he discussed information as a measureable entity in which caseinformation can be understood as something separate and independent of the medium deliveringit. And indeed, this idea characterises not only the contemporary understanding of informationbut also the qualitative character of digital technology evident in common descriptive binariessuch “real” and “virtual”.
The concept of data is crucial to this separation. Data as defined by Wikipedia is “the lowestlevel of abstraction from which information and then knowledge are derived”. Unabstractedor unprocessed data is referred to as “raw data”. The Wikipedia entry for “raw data” definesit as data drawn from a particular source that has yet to be processed or organised into arepresentational system through which meaningful information could be communicated. Datathen, whether it is digital or not, is essentially virtual by its very nature as an abstraction of thereal. Ironically then, knowledge would appear to be the result of a series of abstractions from theoriginal object. It is therefore only possible to know something if it is presented to us in a virtualform that is wholly different from its original state.The processing, or virtualisation of raw data through abstractions to produce new information isan arbitrary process as there are myriad options as to how this processing takes place, exposingit to manipulation. The Wikipedia entry for “raw data” also cites “the inventor of the Internet,”Tim Berners-Lee and his appeal that more raw data should be made available to the public sothat we might at least be given the opportunity to interpret the data for ourselves. Of course,the information presented in this entry, and in fact all other entries that make up Wikipedia, isprecisely one such arbitrary interpretation of data, which, in this case, is indicated by the alert atthe top of the page stating that the information in this particular entry is not completely reliablebecause it “does not cite any references or sources”. This entry, we can assume, has not yetbeen through the process that would bring it up (or down) to the standards of consensus desiredby Wikipedia. It is surprisingly only very short and despite the suggestion in the alert to “pleasehelp improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources”, it has not been developed in anymeaningful sense since the alert was posted in 2009.However, had I checked the “raw data” entry between 2:37pm and 4:24pm on 30th October 2008I would have learnt that: “Raw data is a term for taking it up the bum by a giraffe, it is also knownas primary data.” Or even more recently, on 11th September at 5:37pm I would have discoveredthat raw data was in fact “a term for ‘big penis’”. The latter was flagged as “possiblevandalism” and removed immediately. It is not difficult to understand the attractiveness that thiskind of digital vandalism holds for those with little else to do. Of course, the Dada artists of theearly 20th Century, made similar assaults on the venerated domains of information of the day,namely high art and journalistic language, though defacement and nonsense poetry. Howeveras much as I would like to read political motivation into the vandalism of Wikipedia I am sureit is more a symptom of Wikipedia’s user-generated content platform, a characteristic of whathas become known as Web 2.0. It also demonstrates that information today, is not only anarbitrary twist on some original raw data but in fact is also subject to temporal manipulations.That is to say that the immediacy of our current accessibility to information databases likeWikipedia coupled with the immediacy and accessibility of editing that it provides means that atany single moment when we access information, we may be viewing a wholly different version ofthat information than what we would see a few seconds later. It is this sense of the infinite updatethat characterises “the information age” not simply the fact that information flows more freely
and to more places – not only is information not fixed in time or space, its central meaning has alsoadopted this fluid character.In an age defined by such fluidity the default state of being is ‘the update’, a continuous culturalmoment of 2.0 versioning. The accelerating cycle of constant renewal can be seen across all aspectsof life including, obviously fashion and consumer goods, but also politics (sudden leadershipchanges and coups), civil infrastructure (property demolition and development), medical technology(advanced prosthesis), genetics (genetically modified crops) etc. These different manifestations of‘update culture’ have the potential for positive or negative impacts on everyday life but the diversityof examples demonstrates the impact a society’s informational character on its cultural behaviours.Art has a unique place in this cultural context as it is both indifferent to the update and is lessconcerned with information and more concerned with experience, that is, focussed on raw datarather than its abstraction.In the 21st Century it is difficult to utter the word ‘data’ without calling to mind computationallanguage and digital or electronic information. However data was something very powerful longbefore it became mediated digitally. The Dadaists, for example, felt disenfranchised about language,as the information it delivered was untruthful and manipulative. As a result they abandoned alllanguage that could be said to be logically linked to any data at all. That is, of course, except forthe link to direct experience. In his performances at the Cabaret Voltaire (the Dada headquartersin Zurich) Hugo Ball used absurd, nonsense language in his poems and delivered them with such aphysical intensity that the language became almost indexical to the raw data of the performanceexperience – raw data and information become one and the same.The artists who have been brought together in the Raw Data exhibition have been selected from adiversity of practice fields to respond to the concept of “raw data” with the intention that in theirresponses they will also be creating new sets of raw data rather than informational abstractions.Even if the artist takes existing sets of data as his/her starting point in the way that Matt Dittonand Jason Nelson have, they are never simply informational patterns that are designed tofacilitate the conversion of data into knowledge. Art brings something new to the data set that isbeyond verbal or numeric explanation, it utilises the dimension of experience that is closer to theengagement with raw data than it is to the acquisition of information. For example, for Kylie Hicks,Kelly Hussey-Smith, Alan Hill and Simone Paterson raw data relates to direct human experienceswith the world. Whether this involves human relationships, our relationship with animals or theperceptual apprehension of consumer society or domestic space, these are experiences that defythe regular informational patterns of words and numbers. Daniel Della-Bosca’s process howeveris highly dependent on the manipulation of complex mathematical and computational data butthis is coupled with a consideration for the haptic data yielded by sensorial experience. Di Ball’srelationship with data is a complex one. At the 2008 International Symposium on Electronic Arts(ISEA) she witnessed new media theorist, Lev Manovich speak on the contemporary phenomenon of
‘data mining’. But at this symposium Di presented her own paper to the congregation of “geeks”in attendance lamenting that she had lost of her own ‘geek girl’ status. Di has recently been at the2011 ISEA attempting to get her geek back, she is blogging the journey for the show.Di’s choice of social media as a method of documentation is both convenient and appropriate inan exhibition concerned with the relationship between information and direct experience. Socialmedia has become an accurate index of this relationship, much of the debate surrounding socialmedia remains fixed to the aging argument that the virtual is replacing the real: virtual ‘friends’replacing real ones; text based ‘conversations’ replacing verbal communication etc. As long as wethink of these different experiences as binary opposites the arguments pitting one experienceagainst another on the grounds of their relative proximity to something called reality, will not goaway.In recent weeks Facebook has announced that it is launching a new feature called the “timeline”.It has been met with initial controversy, as are most Facebook developments, in light of concernsover user privacy, which essentially means over what users fear about how their personal“information” will be treated. Facebook’s defence is that it is not extracting any necessarilynew information about the user but in fact, the Timeline is actually just a new informationalrepresentation of what data is already present in the user’s profile. With social media and otherWeb 2.0 user-generated media, what we often forget is that as much as the data we fill out thesemedia with is our own, the platform that structures the informational pattern is not. By the timethis exhibition is over, Facebook’s Timeline will be old news and likely commonplace to its usersto the extent that it will be almost ready to be defended in the face of the next interface update.While it may occasionally engage in acts of subversion art is not in the business of competingwith social media on any level, however art is an essential disturbance to the ‘update culture’ thatsocial media exemplifies. For most artists, experience itself is the raw data from which the workof art emerges but unlike an informational pattern it is not processed or abstracted into a more‘readable’ form, its method of communication remains in the realm of experience.Ashley Whamond, 2011.  Jimmy Wales, “Fundraising 2007/Video with Jimmy subtitles” Wikimedia Meta-Wiki http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fundraising_2007/Video_with Jimmy_subtitles (accessed Sept 20, 2011)  Wikipedia contributors, “Wikipedia” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia (accessed Sept 20, 2011)  Wikipedia contributors, “Information Age” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_Age (accessed Sept 20, 2011)  Wikipedia contributors, “Ralph Hartley” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ralph_Hartley (accessed Sept 20, 2011)  Wikipedia contributors, “Information Age” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_Age (accessed Sept 20, 2011)  Wikipedia contributors, “Data” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data (accessed Sept 20, 2011)  Wikipedia contributors, “Raw data” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raw_data (accessed Sept 20, 2011)  ibid.  ibid.  Wikipedia contributors, “Revision History of Raw data” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Raw_data&diff 450429106&oldid=248637997 (accessed Sept 20, 2011)  Wikipedia contributors, “Revision History of Raw data” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Raw_data&diff= 449855300&oldid=449855287 (accessed Sept 20, 2011)  Wikipedia contributors, “Raw data” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_2.0 (accessed Sept 20, 2011)
Left:Di Ball, Beauty and the Geeks, 2011 Bottom: Daniel Della-Bosca, Quattatube, 2011
Above:Matt Ditton, Seven Months of Tokyo, 2011Right:Kelly Hussey-Smith, Rokiah: 30 years, 279 days, 2011