Review: Big Bang Data (EXHIBITION)

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Review: Big Bang Data (EXHIBITION)

Open until 20th March – so there is still time to see! Tickets are £9.50 for students, £12.50 for adults.

Somerset House always do a great job at hosting exhibitions that would be difficult to imagine anywhere else. And Big Bang Data is no exception. If I had to describe what type of exhibition it is I would say this: it’s an exhibition for people that don’t like art.

Big Bang Data acts as a large umbrella to encompass anything and everything that deals with the theme. There are works from artists, designers and companies in a hot pot of responses to the digital world. A lot is very informative, visually stimulating and also (as is customary now) participatory.

The exhibition itself is really informative, helping to visualise data transfer and how much of it is stored and created everyday. Trying to place a weight on something invisible can really hurt your brain, but through different visuals (and lots of pretty colours) it seems much more understandable. One thing I have to say about this exhibition is that you will learn lots of facts. The type of facts you imagine people would use to impress people at dinner parties. For example:

“An incredible 90% of the data in the world today was created in the last two years alone.”

Go and impress your Uncle Bill with that one.

There were a couple of pieces that really interested me. So I’ll briefly talk about those here. Firstly, ‘Dear Data’ by Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec (2014 – 2015). Loved it. In essence, the piece consists of postcards sent between two artists living on either side of the Atlantic. They measure a particular type of data relating to their lives that week, put the information on a postcard, and send it to each other via snail mail. This artistic transaction makes something invisible (data) into something tangible and something that we can grasp onto. Using an analogue system rather than a digital one, makes the concept of data far less intimidating and far more accessible for the audience to understand.

Secondly, (now this wasn’t an art piece but more of an artefact) was the Rosetta Disk (2009). This is a digital archive of the world’s languages. Some stats for you: it has over 13,000 pages of information in over 1,500 human languages. This blows my mind. And the actual disk is very tiny. It would fit into the palm of your hand, but somehow it is heavy with all this data. The disk has been purposefully made out of a durable material to last for thousands of years. The idea is that it will serve as a snapshot of the linguistic diversity of the world today. Imagine having a snapshot of the world’s languages in something portable that would fit in your purse. Again, crazy!

The third piece that I want to draw your attention to is a work that I experienced first, and read about later. It’s towards the end of the exhibition (and by this point, you might be experiencing ‘museum legs’) so when you see a cluster of black bean bag chairs, they look very inviting. Once sat down, you naturally look up, and above you (projected onto a concave screen) is what appears to be stars. Hundreds of stars that are slowly moving, exploding and shining on this projection.

It is pretty beautiful, and rather mesmerising once you get stuck on those bean bags. (You may need a helping hand out of them.) Now, once I had finally struggled (both from fatigue and difficultly) to get up to drag myself over to the label, I was stunned to see that it wasn’t purely a depiction of stars at all. It was a real-time representation of financial markets, driven by live trading data from the world’s stock exchange. It was a demonstration of how beautiful data can be (and perhaps how deceptive it can be.) If you’re wondering, this piece was entitled ‘Black Shoals; Dark Matter’ by Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway (2015).

There are so many other things that I could point out about this exhibition that I loved – the fact that you could ‘sell’ your data, see how much fossil fuel had been burnt during your lifetime, or even watching images to music that had been hacked from someone’s personal computer.

The exhibition really finished on a high point, and brought the concept back to humanity. It is quite easy to get lost in logic and numbers, yet by educating us about data, this exhibition reminds us that we cannot rely upon this alone. We are reminded that our society can thrive on chance and disorder just as much data-centrism. Sometimes the answer isn’t in the data, sometimes its through negotiation and debate, and within our heart. (As cheesy as that is, you know it’s all true.) There must be room for opinions, mystery and chance.

The last piece you see as you leave the exhibition is called ‘Data Will Help Us’ by Jonathan Harris (2013) and it is a manifesto about the positive and negative possibilities of data-based logic. I will just leave you with a couple of lines from this piece, and also the opinion of that you should go to this exhibition if you can.

[“About data.] It will help advertisers see people as statistics, but will it help us remember those statistics are people? It will help soldiers kill enemies remotely with drones, but will it help us see war as more than a game? It will help us live forever, but will it help us see that life’s meaning stems from the fact that it ends?”

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