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There Be Dragons at Inspace

Hidden in plain sight in the Bayes Centre, the Inspace Gallery is host to the exhibition There Be Dragons. It brings together five artworks from stand-alone artists and several in collaboration to ‘navigate the uncharted data territories of creative practice’ by examining narratives around data through creative practice and how data can be used within the creative industries. This is in keeping with the gallery’s purpose, dedicated to Edinburgh and Napier’s commitment to promoting data-driven innovation.

Co-director of the Creative Informatics Partnership and one of the exhibition’s organisers, Professor Michael Smyth explained that the artists were encouraged to ‘untangle the messy relationship [between the creative industries] and data’. According to Prof. Smyth, the artworks are about hearing the voices of the creative practitioners and the data within their lives, which he wanted to encourage the artists to speculate about. This was driven partly by the fact that, as Smyth stresses, ‘data isn’t neutral’ and is affected by how it is gathered. Therefore, he wanted the pieces to make audiences think about how data is represented and what types of data build individual narratives.

He expressed that ‘data is more than your postcode, it’s about people’ and yet without seeking data from a diverse demographic, it can let people slip through the cracks.

This idea of the gap in data is something pertinent to the work of former data analyst Elke Finkenauer, creator of ‘Doing Data’, one of the three standalone artists who spoke to The Student about their work. Finkenauer’s piece is a series of experimental sculptures representing the manipulation of data and were inspired by a database she created from scrap materials in her studio.

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The scraps represent the way data cleaning can lead to the loss of outliers, radically changing data narratives being portrayed. Yet the piece also explores the act of data analysis, paralleling the freestyle nature of making practice and structured data analysis, which both rely on manipulation, that of material in sculpture and of data in data analysis. The sculptures present a creative representation of data narratives manipulated from data sets.

The Student also discussed ‘Cloud’ with creator Mel Frances, an interactive piece focussing on the qualitative data we produce in our daily lives, such as tweets and emails, which can construct narratives. Frances explained that, by focusing on the mundane, ‘Cloud’ considers both how we find narratives in and place narratives onto, data sets’. Her key ambition was to express the balance between critical and playful approaches to data, exploring how data analysis itself can become play.

She explained that the playful element of her piece makes the deeper connection that people can deduce different things from data depending upon their personal experiences. Thus, ‘Cloud’ seeks to highlight that different data narratives are born depending on an individual’s understanding of a data set.

Finally, The Student spoke to Theodore Koterwas, creator of ‘When do you give yourself away?’ which explores the lifestyle trend towards collecting ‘visceral, sensory data’ through technology like Fitbits.

The piece uses Galvanic Skin Response to measure data such as a person’s stress levels and translates this information into a sound and visual response on the installation. Fascinated by perception, Koterwas wanted to capture how we experience data through the body and focus on the moments in which we see what is invisible and miss the obvious, in a world where, he suggests, ‘bodies don’t exist’ as we become compartmentalised into the data we produce.

There Be Dragons is an intriguing exhibition offering the varied ways in which there can be crossover between seemingly disparate worlds of art and data and showcases the fruitful nature of such interactions, indicating how art can reimagine perceptions of data by drawing the flexibility of data narratives to the fore.

Image: Token from ‘Enough is Enough’, courtesy of Freya Buxton.