In February this year I attended Big Bang Data, an exhibition at Somerset House that intertwined data with art.
Beginning with a series of images of the actual buildings, servers and data centres that power the internet, this exhibit was all about bringing data into the physical world. From watching real time interactions on the London tube network, to the illuminated globes representing all forms of human data, from prison populations to spoken languages, the visual methods of interpreting data were varied and interesting.
Some of the exhibition was cautionary, highlighting the unseen controllers of our data and what can be stolen from you in the virtual world. Music stolen from hard drives accompanied photographs of the victims of this theft in Eva & Franco Mattes installation The Others. Owen Mundy’s I Know Where Your Cat Lives featured an interactive map of geotagged photographs of cats that had been uploaded to Instagram and other photo-sharing sites. Although the project stripped out all personal details of the account holder, the wider implications of the cat map is obvious, hopefully encouraging viewers to reconsider location privacy. For the intrigued, the project continues online here: http://iknowwhereyourcatlives.com/
The exhibition ended with Black Shoals: Dark Matter, a visualisation of financial institutions in the form of a planetarium that appears overhead as a hauntingly artificial sky, lit up by stock market transactions instead of stars. Lastly, on the way into the gift shop, there was a vending machine that scanned the BBC News feed for items related to the recession, dropping a packet of crisps whenever the search term appears.
Far from beautiful ways to interpret and engage with raw data, this exhibition dissected what it means to exist in the digital age. The internet is portrayed as a vast network, not unknowable and ethereal, but tangible and hackable. As we upload elements of our lives, quantifying ourselves in data, Big Bang Data forced us to really look at what that means.