Our world, through art

The brilliant exhibition at Somerset House in London was a great reminder how important the topic of data is in the modern world. From its beauty as a form of art through to its use for less than savoury gain. It opens opportunities for people and businesses and has the threat of damage to brands, reputation and individuals.

I particularly liked the reminder shown through a global map showing the physical cables that connect countries and cities. Whilst we talk about virtual networks, cloud storage and services, the internet, ultimately this is all just a series of physical cables laid under oceans that passes data around the world.

There was also some great insight about data that I enjoyed: like 2002 represented a turning point for data in that for the first time, we had more information stored in digital form than analogue. By 2007 94% of the total global information was digitally coded information and every day we create around 2.5 trillion bytes of data.

The ‘Black Shoals: Dark Matter’ installation by Lisa Autogena and Joshua Portway was a lot of fun. This was a real-time representation of the financial markets, driven by live trading data from the world stock exchange. It was displayed on a huge curved screen hung from the ceiling looked at from bean bags on the floor like you were looking up into space at night. Companies were represented as stars that flicker and glow in real-time as shares are traded around the world. The brightness and duration of the glow from the stars indicated the volume of the trade. It was like a data, financial markets version of the planetarium.

Towards the end of the exhibition, the subject turned to question whether data is always right and what it cant tell. Whilst its opportunities are limitless and ever-growing, numbers can, of course, be manipulated and skewed to tell a story. I reminder that you cannot use data alone and should always leave room for subjectivity and ambiguity.

On the same topic, Jonathan Harris created a piece entitled ‘Data Will Help Us’ to highlight the positive and negative possibilities of data-based logic. For example, the print asks ‘Data will help us remember, but will it let us forget?’

The exhibition runs through to mid-March and I strongly recommend anyone interested in how data is shaping our world to go. I went with my wife and 4-year-old son and both enjoyed it immensely.

It was great to see our trade represented in a mainstream and artistic way such as this.