Performing Data

Enabling Creative Uses of Streamed Data

Ubiquitous digital technologies offer mechanisms through which we can attempt to learn a deeper sense of ourselves and our world. These can illuminate hidden patterns  of social and physical behaviours, and expose deviations between our assumptions about the world and real activity.

Such radical and fundamental change in our collective perspectives bring with it profound artistic and humanistic questions across the sciences and the arts. It also provides opportunities for exploring new ways to interpret and investigate data, in engaging often playful ways.

Horizon has engaged in a series of research projects that have involved capturing data from ubiquitous technologies and then presenting it to people in creative ways so as to provoke interpretation and drive compelling experiences. A notable example is the Day in the Park project in which biodata was captured from riders on rollercoasters and other thrilling experiences and was subsequently presented to spectators, to the riders themselves, and sometimes also directly used to control the experience itself. A second key example was Active Ingredient’s work A Conversation Between Trees in which both live and historic environmental data were presented to visitors to art galleries in material and performative ways, stimulating an emotional engagement with the data.

A final example was the Vicarious project in which professional film makers incorporated biodata into promotional films. These projects have led to a series of papers including best papers at ACM CHI 2011 and 2012 and an honorable mention at 2013.

The key idea that is emerging from this work is that of performing data rather than visualizing data in conventional ways such as through graphs and statistics. Through performance the data is revealed to people in various material and embodied ways – sometimes slowly, sometimes, as if live, sometimes in tangible forms, and sometimes by requiring them to enact being sensors.

These performance-led explorations in the wild have been supported by the development of two underpinning software platforms which have been brought together to make up the ‘Performing Data Toolkit’, a combination of tools and services that enable the capture, recording and mediation of scientific data within artistic contexts and practices. The Vicarious platform has emerged in response to the need to capture and share data from a diverse set of physiological Biosensors and has been used in Day in the Park and Vicarious projects as well as in several consultancy projects. The Timestreams platform was developed as a follow on to A Conversation Between Trees to allow artists to creatively blog time series sensor data, and has been adapted for use in further data blogging projects: Bee Lab, the Prediction Machine and Creating the Energy for Change.

See the Performing Data blog for further information.