data.set at Thinking Out Loud
‘Thinking Out Loud’ is the fifth Data as Culture art exhibition at the Open Data Institute. The exhibition is built around the practice of the 2016 ODI Sound Artist in Residence, Alex McLean, with a group of artists, designers, makers and musicians that he has collaborated with. Openness and processes of making – where any end results are left partly undone – are at the heart of many of the projects on display. The exhibition draws connections between the ways in which humans have captured, encoded and distributed data, and made it meaningful through pattern throughout history. From pre-Columbian Quipu and the ancient art of weaving to computer software environments, it introduces us to creative notions of code, and the ways in which it can carry both language and thought.
The exhibition features artists and makers who are driven by radical intentions to expose the inner workings of the systemic structures we live with. We are encouraged to engage with these ourselves through art, software, folk songs, glitch aesthetics, chance encounters and knitted jumpers.
Antonio Roberts’ artwork focuses on errors and glitches that are generated by digital technology. An underlying theme of his work – like that of many of the show’s artists – is open source software, free culture and collaborative practices. Visitors to the exhibition are exposed to a variety of data, including open archives from the University of Birmingham, a selection of art galleries Roberts has worked with and digital collections of his own art work, through his explosively colourful, jagged sculpture, ‘Copy Bomb’. The piece is a form of ‘PirateBox’, presenting an open, unregulated network for people to use exactly as they like. It emphasises the unexpected outcomes that may come of people freely sharing and access data.
Another of Roberts’ work, ‘data.set’ – which has been created specifically for ‘Thinking Out Loud’ – investigates what happens when we choose to represent social data beyond the confines of a traditional spreadsheet dataset. Rather than showing informative data from the UK datasets on digital exclusion and adult internet usage that he has mined, Roberts represents its bytes visually. Blocks of colours replace tabular or text-file formats, offering a different perspective.