The overall scope of this paper is derived from a three-year postdoc research project (2014-17) entitled “Making sense of data – understanding digital reality through contemporary artistic practices of visualization and sonification”. The project has a specific focus on charting and analyzing artifacts and experimental operations that are all occupied with exploring digital formats, technologies and data through visual and sonic strategies. In this paper I will discuss different instances of how data measurement and data translation is extended into the sphere of art and the aesthetic. A main concern here will be whether this kind of exploratory work with data implies any actual critical affordances for our basic notions of ‘data’ as a theoretical concept as well as a culturally determined phenomenon?
In order to elaborate theoretically and thematically upon this I will interrogate two main examples of artistic practices that can be positioned differently on a broad spectrum of data-based art: One example is the work by the Italian artist Allesandro Carboni (https://spaceasprocess.wordpress.com) who deals with the complex relationships between body and space. In his current project this is carried out through mapping strategies taking place in various city spaces where data is collected, structured and then re-presented in more or less finite formats. For this process Carboni uses his own body as the primary medium or tool and thus establishes a coreographed practice which monitors the city without average digital connectedness and GPS- or WiFi-linked tracking algorithms, thus comprising an emphatically human take on data collection, -extraction, and -execution. Another example is the work by the British (Berlin based) artist Martin Howse (http://www.1010.co.uk/org/) who operates in a field somewhere in between earth, technology, and unruly software. An example of this could be the “Earthboot” and “Earthcode”-projects in which Howse makes use of the natural electrical currents in the ground of various spots in different cities to boot up his computer system. Central to Howse’s practice is an interest for circumventing institutionalized ways of understanding data in order to otherwise being able to interact with the energies, codes and signals that surround us.
Following these examples, the paper’s second part will consider what we might term a ‘politics of data’ emerging from cultural practices that are neither always explicitly political, nor always clearly artistic, but undoubtedly engaged with data as a fundamental material for exploring the relations between new technologies, information, and our lifeworld. Finally, the paper intends to ask how we can understand these experimental operations as being ‘aesthetic’, not least when related to questions about “sense making” as a double sided logic concerning both semantic meaning-making and the rudimentary rendering of abstract data into perceivable form.