Visualizing data in the Arts

An event held in collaboration with The Humanities Project showcased the connection between data visualization and art
Image
A blue network of lines and bright points that could be the inner-workings of AI; at the center there's an outline of a human head and brain

“If painting was the art of the classical era, and photography that of the modern era, data visualization is the medium of our own time.” When Art Librarian and Head of the Art/Music Library, Stephanie Frontz read this statement from artists Rasa Smite, Raitis Smits, and Lev Manovich, she was inspired. Data, one of the University of Rochester’s research priorities, is a form of visual communication, and like art, it can be meaningful, challenging, and beautiful. Stephanie was determined to create an opportunity for the University of Rochester community to explore the confluence of data and art.

In late March, with the support of The Humanities Project and the River Campus Libraries (RCL), Stephanie presented “Visualizing Data in the Arts”, a full day event that brought together artists, engineers, humanists, programmers, digital scholarship specialists, faculty, students, and staff to dive into this confluence through a robust program showcasing the connection between data visualization and art, and providing a venue for scholars from diverse disciplines and backgrounds to meet and share.

The day began at the VISTA Collaboratory in the Carlson Science & Engineering Library, with a variety of demonstrations and conversations. Presentations included Mechanical Engineering Professor Renato Perucchio’s

3D Elmina Castle project, a collaboration with Professor Michael Jarvis, Department of History, and the University of Ghana Archeology Field School. Graduate students in English Alex Zawacki, Kyle Huskin and Helen Davies presented about data visualizations in the Lazarus Project, which is led by Professor Gregory Heyworth, Department of English, and employs multi-spectral imaging data. Attendees were also treated to an overview of a wide variety of data-driven work from RCL’s Digital Scholarship Lab. RIT student Evan Maloney presented his spectacular visualizations of sound, including the sound of his own heartbeat. Stephen Cartwright offered a sampling of his data visualizations and the sculptures which were beautifully displayed on the screens in VISTA.

Students in the Introduction to Media Studies course had an opportunity to get hands on with data through a workshop lead by Stephen Cartwright, Professor in the School of Art and Design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

To cap off the day, attendees were treated to Cartwright’s spellbinding keynote address in the Humanities Center. He shared his innovative work using a large data set that he has been creating using his own travels or

lack thereof. Since 1999, Cartwright has recorded his exact latitude, longitude and elevation every hour of every day. He incorporates this location data and other personally recorded information into digital, sculptural, and even auditory work, constantly seeking new ways to experience the story of his life. From large acrylic and resin forms to aluminum tubing struck by a motor-driven clapper that turns data into sound, Cartwright’s data-driven art allows the viewer to experience data far removed from spreadsheets or numbers, gleaning new meaning from a network of space and time.

Many conversations were sparked by Cartwright’s talk, and by the entire event. Says student Evan Maloney: “it was great to meet and talk with so many people from so many different disciplines, and learn about how our practices overlap when it comes to visualizing data.”

Photo Credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay