A Manifesto for Small Data (Data in the Creative Process)

A Manifesto for Small Data (Data in the Creative Process)

Data is an important element in my working process, usually created using a GPS tracker app on my phone. But what do I mean by data, how does it fit into my creative process and why do I use it?   

Why data?

If I think back to my Access course and MA, data emerged as an important creative tool for several reasons.

  • My thought processes are quite analytical - I like to analyse, deconstruct, visualise, reformat and reimagine. Having data to play with is a good fit.
  • Cubism interests me - the idea of seeing things from all angles at once, or using multiple viewpoints to observe a subject. This can be obvious like looking at a subject and drawing, photographing or describing in writing. Data to my mind is simply an extension of this, another viewpoint, another way of seeing.
  • Exploring spaces or places is a rich source of inspiration and I have found the best way to do this is to visit, to walk, to look and to think. Recording data acts as a definitive record of the process and of my presence in the space. GPS apps are fabulous for this because they record so much accurate data.
  • Data can be endlessly fascinating and visually exciting! 

How is data used in contemporary art?

Using data in contemporary art is not new, but most work I am aware of uses ‘big data’, massive data sets captured automatically which can be mined for behavioural insights and visualised in many ways. I am more interested in ‘small data’ – i.e. data created for a specific purpose to capture a moment or record presence and experience in a highly personalised way. Small data in my opinion has more inherent meaning relevant to my artistic process.

So your process is all about data visualisation?

Not really. Recording data and directly displaying it in charts or graphs so it can be ‘read’ might be useful sometimes or appropriate in corporate work (very relevant in my previous career).

This however is not my intention here, instead my objective is not to visualise the data as such but to use it as a source of lines, shapes and patterns that can be abstracted and transformed for use in the artwork. In other words to contribute to an abstract visual language to describe a subject. It may give the finished work a sense of the subject matter in terms of visual clues for the viewer but I see this as useful but not essential. Most importantly for me, using the data in this way embeds my experience of the subject and gives additional depth and meaning to the work.  

How have you developed this approach for different purposes?

If you want to know more about the use of data in my work, I recommend looking at the following projects.

  • ‘5 Walks in Millennium Square, 2018’ (GPS data from a series of walks intended to map and record the changing accessibility of a public urban space over time). 
  • ’14 Journeys of York’ (GPS data used to record journeys from across York to the Community Stadium, embedding in the work the connections between the NHS, the Stadium and the people of York). 
  • ‘Interior Spaces’ (a different approach – using a language of measurements and architectural materials to explore aspects of domestic spaces)
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