Six demos, three speakers and two hours exploring what happens when artists work with data.
We moved from Alison’s ambitious pan-European project, through Naho’s take on city-level smart data, ending with Aste in an immersive, personalised story at Boom Town festival.
“Can we say it’s an experimental animation?”
On top of producing hugely powerful and widely acclaimed work, Alison is also a next level funding ninja, dancing through countless rounds in multiple countries to bring Migration Trail to life. Among others, Creative Industries Fund NL (who only fund film) and Arts Council (who never fund film) took the budget from prototype level to €200,000.
She discussed the critical need to tell these stories in a different way, eventually combining maps, timelines, datavis, instant messaging, atmospheric sound and podcasts to make the plight of migrants resonate with a modern audience.
Her source data was collected, in part, through active and no doubt harrowing field research, resulting in 77,000 spreadsheet entries and 216 hours of content for each character.
“Live squirrel data isn’t that reliable”
No wonder this project was commissioned. Naho shared a screen grab of her application, exhibiting the same graceful, matter-of-fact tone as the finished piece.
Reluctant to call it a poem, Naho’s pieces translate Smart City data (originally promised on tap but eventually sourced herself) into short, simple and beautifully affecting one-line poems capturing the city in action.
Alongside a team of creatives (Dan Hett, Paul Angus, RASKL, Peter J Evans, Sarah Unwin and Tom Rowlands) the project evolved from oily, dusty flip-dot displays to a custom-built split-flap solution. Besides the trusty spreadsheet and JSON files, an online authoring tool was made by Dan so that Naho “could stop sending weird GIFs,” to express how she wanted the displays to move.
“Voluntarily reduced cognition as an access need”
Data-driven performance might sound futuristic, but Aste’s work is “not about interacting with technology, but interacting with more informed humans.”
She charted her journey from activism to playable stories, looking at various works that use audience-submitted data to create immersive environments, particularly at festivals where the race for differentiation is never-ending. It is here, she wryly remarked, that various access needs – like “voluntarily reduced cognition” – should be accounted for.
There were questions about how audiences react to being put in boxes according to their data, with Aste arguing that when humans interpret the data, rather than capitalist AI systems, it leads to far more meaningful and deeper immersion.
A feast of demos
With six demos in full force, there was no shortage of stuff to get your hands on. From handmade desktop toys on a data-collecting mission to face tracking, photo booths, AI poetry, virtual reality and the Chatbot used in Alison Killing’s moving account of the migration crisis. The list in full:
- Cultural Probes – Make associates / Connected Places Catapult / Geoffrey Stevens / Alan Waldock
- Symphony of Blockchains – IOHK / Scott Darby
- Customisation Station – Computer Aided Theatre / Åste Amundsen / Paul Hansen
- Data Faceprint – Barbican / Nexus Studios / Lin Yi-Wen
- Migration Trail Chatbot – Alison Killing
- Poem Portrait – Es Devlin / Google Arts