Data as Art

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Presented at Strata Conference 2011, Santa Clara

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  • Full disclosure – I’m not a federal civil servant. I’m a government contractor (Dell Services) that’s been working at NASA since 2001 on various govt contracts.I will be posting theses slides to my blog along with links to some of the projects I’ll be sharing you.Probably sometime tomorrow.
  • I’m a past student of the digital arts. And current appreciator of digital arts.Hold a master of arts in multimedia – during that period of study I spent a lot of time being inspired by what’s happening in the ever emerging digtal art world and how people are using technology to create truly compelling and thought provoking works of art.My master’s thesis project was a multimedia art installation entitled Luminance. Luminance explored human computer interaction and realtime data visualizations and I’ll be talking more about that project later in this presentation. That said, I’m not bold enough to refer to myself as an artist. At best, I’m a wanna be artistIn my professional career, I’ve recently revisited the world of data visualizations and infographics in building out my toolkit for communicating upward towards executive managers and decision makers. As they say, a picture says a thousand words. During that time, I’ve been re-immersing myself in data visualzation approaches.So what's this session about? In a nutshell its about looking at cool stuff.This session is the opposite to Tuesday’s Communicating Data Clearly Workshop with Naomi Robbins. Naomi’s wonderful session was about precision and accuracy of data storytelling in the form of different types of charts and graphsI’m going to begin with some foundational thoughts about data art. And then I’m going to spend most of the time shining light on some of the artists that are used data as an artistic material in the same manner that other artists use brushes, oil paints, or molding clay. Your takeaways for this session? Well, my hope is that you’ll be inspired. By showing how some artists have a role as edgelings in the realm of data visulaization, it will inspire you to push your own data visualizations forward in your own way.
  • The logical place for us to start is with some definitions. We’ve been talking about data for 3 days now. But what about art? According to wikipedia…In its simplest form, art is meant to produce an emotional reactionArt is one of those things you don’t necessarily know exactly how to define. But you know it when you see it.
  • When we think of art, what comes to mind are piece’s such as Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. No one would debate that this is a piece of art
  • Or a piece from Monet’s gardens period
  • Or something from Picasso’s cubism period
  • Or one of my personal favorite – pop / graffiti artist Keith Haring
  • Kandinsky
  • But what about this artistic mural from a Dutch Artist named Duo StavniceThis mural is a data visualiztionA Netherlands fire department is taking an unique way to display their achievements over the past 10 year. The visualization show’s the call’s of the fire house over the last 10 years and all of the action they have made. What’s interesting is that the firehouse is right on a highway and most of their calls are for accidents on that particular part of the highway hence, the high density.
  • In the world of sculpture, when we think of art, we think about Rodin’s “The Thinker”
  • Or metalworks art projects commonly found in public spaces
  • But here’s a sculpture based on census data reports of average income for various Houston superneigborhoods“Wishing well for Houston” What this sculpture did was take census data on the average income of each super neighborhood in metropolitan Houston. Then transferred that number into a height. So…the wealthier a neighborhood, the more skyscrapers it got. Provides a different way of observing the condition of the Houston metropolictaleara.  The piece was a large plywood construct that formed a map of Houston as divided by "super-neighborhoods." What Piana, Nagle, and Haynor did was to take the average income for each super-neighborhood (as taken from the last census) and transform that income number in to a height. The highest incomes--Memorial and River Oaks--were built up in this map to be quite tall--over six feet high. The lowest income neighborhoods were quite close to the floor. Inside each super-neighborhood's wooden box were chimes. The idea was that guests would throw coins into the super-neighborhoods, ringing the chimes
  • It’s really no different than representing data in bar graph, line graph, or scatter plot. The intent and goal is the same. To tell some sort of story. What’s different is the type of response and the expected action.A lot of the visual representations of data we’ve been talking about this week want you to look at data in a different way, find some new insight that you didn’t have before, and make some sort of informed, business based decision. Artists are willing to be a little more abstract. The typical artist does want you think. But there is an additional emphahsis and desrie to illicit emotional response. They want you to laugh or cry or become enraged enough throw a brick through a window.(Or in my case, envy.)
  • In my opinion, what’s happening now is a contiuation of what was happening in the 60s (and by generations of artists before that), In the 60spop artist like Warhol and Lichtenstein were painters of modern life in using commercial images as their subjects.Taking things that were becoming increasingly persistent and emerging in life and culture – things like mass media, celebrity, and advertising.Warhol riffed on these subject, compelling the viewer of the art to reexamine/rethink these topics. Today, what’s becoming increasingly persistent and ever emerging is information and data.We now have machines are producing more data than people. 15-20 years ago, access to data and information wasn’t something that most people discussed on a daily basis. Today around we carry tons of data in our pockets on our smartphones. And those same smartphones allow us to access a seemingly infinte amount of information via networks.Data is increasingly part of mainstream media… as Scott Yara shared with us this morning, the data deluge is being covered by publications such as The Economist and BusinessWeekIt is clear, that data is increasingly surrounding us penetrating us. Binding us together.Modern data artists continue this Warhol like tradition in an era where information and the media is everywhere. It’s simply a different kind of art for a different kind of era.Art where mass data can act as both the subject matter and the building block
  • Visualing information isn’t really all that new. It’s been with us a while.People have been blending information with the graphic arts for a long timeWhat we now call InfographicsEssentially a mash up of information with graphic designIn 1861 one of the first landmark information graphics was releasedand told the story of Napoleon's disastrous march on Moscow.The creator, Charles Joseph Minard, captured four different changing variables to that catastrophe, - the army's direction as they traveledthe location the troops passed throughthe size of the army as troops died from hunger and woundsand the freezing temperatures they experienced.
  • And for decades, we’ve been using infographics to organize information to help us get from one place to another…
  • To tell the historic stories of and educate us about the most important and critical elements of our culture and society
  • And more importantly, know where those critical life elements can be found
  • And we have infographics to give us an assist for those certain morning afters.
  • In my opinion, the recent trend excellence in infographics can be traced back to the late 90’s and the publishing of three influential books by Edward TufteI spent a couple years working at interactive ad agencies in around 2000-2001. The types of things we were working on were print ads and internet banner ads and flash interstitials. Every single art director, designer, and production artist had these books sitting on their desks. The presence of Tufte’s teachings have had a presence in the graphic arts
  • Infographics we encounter today are increasingly sophisticated and visually appealing.This is the album cover of Latest OK Go albumThe cover Artistic visualizations of the song lyrics as well as the text that the album name was based on: The Influence of the Blue Ray of the Sunlight and of the Blue Colour of the Sky by General A.J. Pleasonton.The text and song lyrics were analyzed by hand in order to gather data about the grammatical parts of speech and the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables… then viuslized for the album cover.
  • This is an MIT infographicshwing the Relationship between Flickr tags
  • What this Adaptation infographic shows is the connection between all the characters in the film.I included this infographic piece about the film Adaption to remind ourselves about what art is. Remember, art is also about the process. And for the critics who claim that infographics aren’t art, I suggest you seek out the blog post about this process. Where each step in the process that went in to making this infographic is well documented. The process has a lot of similarities to an oil painting on canvas
  • Theinfographic was based on sound data captured from a New york city neighborhood in a 24 hour timeframeThe colors of the bars represent the types of establishment in the neighborhood. Bars, gyms, restaurants parks, dance clubs, The piece using sound data and representing it in a manner that asks us to rethink the immediate world around us – our local neighborhoods.Theres also an animated version of this.
  • There are many examples of people generating art from data that we are creating in real time.Art installations from artists such as Camille Utterback use different types of sensors. Light sensors, physical floor devices that sense weight.
  • My own contribution to this category was luminance. For this piece, we used video sensors (nothing more than a sony consumer video camera)Set up a projector on one side of a semi-transparent screen and a video camera on the other side.Participants in the piece would play with the art by standing between the projector and the screen.This creates a shadow.And with the shawdow comes contrast. So the video camera captures that image contrast, runs it thru an algorithim, that creates digital objects that outline the shawdow.Those digital objects have properties…like X and Y coordinates….objects that can interact with animated objects.
  • The goal was to turn the historic Ferry Building in downtown Auckland New Zealand into a giant interactive playground.We used 3 different types of interaction – body interaction on the two stages, hand interaction above a light table, phone interaction with the tracking of waving phones. There were 6 scenes, cycled every hour for the public. The whole experience lasted 6 nights.
  • All our Social Media is generating tons of bothreal time data and vast data respositories for artists to take advantage ofListening Post is an art installation by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin that culls text fragments in real time from thousands of unrestricted Internet chat rooms, bulletin boards and other public forums. The texts are read by a voice synthesizer, and simultaneously displayed across a suspended grid of more than two hundred small electronic screens.Artists description -- Dissociating the communication from its conventional on-screen presence, Listening Post is a visual and sonic response to the content, magnitude, and immediacy of virtual communication.
  • This morning, Scott Yara mentioned an art project called we feel fine – which mined content from various web sites such as dating sitesTwistori is a piece that cites we feel fine as an inspirationWhatTwistori does is parse Twitter updates for instances of some primary elements then shares these elements in a running stream.
  •  Everytime the word "me" shows up in a Tweet, this page notices it. By clicking on the page, you will see the most recent Tweet with the word "me"--stripped of context and authorship. Seperating the 140 charcaters from the time and user…it becomes almost impossible to read them either out loud or to yourself and attach them to your own consciousness. Due to that use of the word me.
  • The Living Brushstrokes project gave GPS devices to a bunch of participants, then used the data they collected to create a type of living painting based on human movements.
  • iTunes library – another stash of fun data that you can play with. What Larsen did was contact 40 friends of mine and asked them to send my a copy of their iTunes music library XMLfile. Larsen wrote a PHP program that threw all of the libraries into a database and located each library based on the latitude and longitude of where the person lives.A vague form of the United States can be seen (Seattle in the upper left, NYC on the right). Lines are drawn between the albums that one person has in common with another. Each album is represented by a small dot in the Library graph. The point's grey scale value is determined by the frequency with which the album has been listened
  • A visualiation of New York city telecommunications data.Using phone and IT data, the images reveal the real time connections between various boroughs and the countries they connect to.Telecommunications Data -- New York Talk Exchange asks the question: How does the city of New York connect to the global conversation?
  • The Bostgon subway data from August 12, 2009 was parsed in openFrameworks and Matlab custom applications. Statistical analysis was performed in Matlab for subway loading (temporal and geographical including the entire MBTA, individual lines, and individual stations), rate of subway activity, and associated data. openFrameworks was used to generate the central visualizations for the project. Programs were written to interpret data that was processed into several arrangements to emphasize different trends within the data. These circular 24-hour clocks for individual lines and stations were made in order to see the relative activity throughout the day. Histograms were used to show the breakdown of daily activity in a linear fashion. Layouts were done in Illustrator and visualizations were combined in order to create the five individual MBTA line posters and overall MBTA poster. Individual print posters are 33in x 23 in.http://toddvanderlin.com/projects/mbta_visualizations
  • Use of FAA data in artthese flight path renderings show the altitudes, makes, and models of more than 205,000 different aircraft being monitored by the FAA on August 12, 2008.
  • Data artists are a throwback to the artists of the Renaiisance period. Like DaVinciData artists combining elements of art, math, scienceProgramming, logic, math, design, culture, humanities Using scripting tools like Processing, ActionScript, C++, PythonManyEyes, OpenFrameworks
  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/4759535950/sizes/l/
  • Data as Art

    1. Data as Art<br />J.J. Toothman<br />Web Strategist<br />NASA Ames Research Center<br />jj.toothman@nasa.gov<br />http://nasawebdude.com<br />Twitter: @jjtoothman<br />1<br />
    2. Session Intro<br />About me<br />Presentation overview<br />Expectations and takeaways<br />
    3. What is Art?<br />Art is the product or process of deliberately arranging items in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect.<br />
    4. “Wishing Well for Houston” – Heath Hayner, Aram Nagle, and Brian Piana; 2010<br />
    5. Data as Art – What is the intent?<br />Use data and artistic visualizations to tell stories with the vast amounts of information that we are creating and compiling. <br />
    6. “Napoleon’s March to Moscow” –  Charles Joseph Minard, 1861<br />
    7. OK Go Album Cover– 2010<br />
    8. “Flickr Tag Mapping” – MIT, 2008<br />
    9. “Adaptation” – Rodrigo Machado, 2006<br />http://www.behance.net/Gallery/Adaptation/194191<br />
    10. “New York Mapping” and “High Line Record” – Mark Edward Campos, 2009<br />
    11. “Untitled 5” – Camille Utterback, 2005<br />
    12. “Luminance” – Short Attention Span, 2005<br />
    13. “Luminance” – Short Attention Span, 2005<br />
    14. “Night Lights” – Todd Vanderlin, 2010<br />
    15. “Listening Post” – Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin; 2010<br />
    16. “Twistori” – Amy Hoy, Thomas Fuchs, and slash7; 2009<br />
    17. “Journal of the Collective Me” – Brian Piana, 2009<br />
    18. “Living Brushstroke” – Maria Scileppi, 2010<br />
    19. “Visualization of Inherent Connections Amongst Friends, <br />Geographically Located Itunes Libraries” – Caleb Larson, 2006<br />
    20. “New York Talk Exchange” – MIT, 2008<br />
    21. “Day in the Life of the MBTA” – Ryan Habbyshaw, Brad Simpson, and <br />Todd Vanderlin, 2009<br />
    22. “Flight Patterns” – Aaron Koblin, 2007<br />
    23. “The Wilderness Downtown” – Aaron Koblin, 2010<br />
    24. http://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/4759535950/sizes/l/<br />J.J. Toothman | jj.toothman@nasa.gov | http://nasawebdude.com | @jjtoothman<br />39<br />

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