1 February 2006
How did you first become interested in recording movements of your everyday life?
My first experiment in recording moments from my everyday life took place during a college field trip to New York in February 2000. I liked the idea of setting myself a challenge and then documenting the experience of carrying it out. For this project known as Greed, I attempted to sample as many different edible items as New York had to offer, resulting in photographs of 34 meals and snacks over the course of 3 days.
I guess this cannot really be classified as an ‘everyday’ experience as it’s not every day that I go waltzing around New York. However, the act of eating certainly can and it was recording this particular act, which inspired me to begin to document other things that crop up in my everyday routine.
You appear to have such a vast amount of data collected on yourself. How do you keep track of everything?
When I decide to document a particular event from within my day-to-day routine, my perception of that event changes permanently – it transforms into something that I can no longer do without thought like most other people.
In the past I have recorded (amongst other things): everything I eat, the date and time of my sneezes, the swear words I utter, the names of people I speak to, the number of alcoholic drinks I consume, the number of pages of my book read and the distance I swim at the local pool etc.
Every time, my experience of the particular event I am recording alters dramatically. My brain becomes hyper-alert, on the look out in case it occurs. As soon as it does I make a mental note which is stored until I have the opportunity to write it down. I often have special log sheets or logbooks on which to record information.
For example, I have just completed Swear Box 2005 (a web-based project) where I documented every sentence that I uttered containing a swear word during 2005. This was one of the hardest projects I’ve undertaken as swearing, being a semi-conscious act is very difficult thing to document – the more you think about recording it, the less likely it is to happen. Some awkward situations would arise when I was engaged in conversation with someone at a social function and accidentally swore. As soon as I said the word, I’d automatically switch to data collecting mode and completely loose track of the conversation. My priority then became to write the sentence down as quickly as possible or it would go round and round in my head until I had.
Throughout this year, I kept a diary of the trials and tribulations of a ‘swear recorder’ and the effect it had on my life. Needless to say the act of recording swears stifled several conversations I might have had with interesting people. I’m a bit of a closet data recorder and I never really like to tell people what I’m up to. I actually find it quite embarrassing – like a medical condition or an eating disorder.
You created quite a stir through your project Eat 22 – did you find this a difficult process to record everything you ate for a whole year?
Eat 22 was the first large scale documentational project that I carried out. I was apprehensive before it began because I could not quite imagine what I was letting myself in for – I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to keep going for a whole year.
Before I started, I thought quite carefully about the most practical way to tackle to the challenge. At that time (early 2001), the first digital cameras were hitting the market. I decided that by getting a new camera I would save myself lots of money on film and processing, but most importantly I’d be able to check that all my photos had come out OK. I wouldn’t miss a thing, but I also had the added bonus that the camera could record the exact date and time of each meal (photo) for me.
Once I got started, I found Eat 22 relatively easy to maintain. It was hard work, but I became so absorbed in the process that there was never any question that I would ever forget to take a photo or consider giving up.
I was chained to my camera, I couldn’t go anywhere without it, unless I knew I wouldn’t need to eat anything. The workload for Eat 22 was continual and certainly took its tole on my eating habits. If somebody offered me a crisp or sweet I got into the habit of saying ‘no’ (which is completely out of character) because I couldn’t be bothered to get my camera out. I tended to eat larger meals, less frequently as less photos meant less work for me. As the project approached the end, I longed for it to finish. I dreamt of getting my freedom back, of being able to open the fridge and just have a nibble on something without giving it a second thought.
It was whilst I was doing Eat 22, that I first became interested in the effect such projects have on the way I live my life. What I achieved was not an accurate picture of what a person consumes in a year, but an accurate picture of what a person who is ‘taking a picture of everything they eat’ consumes in a year.
Did you make a conscious decision to expand out into curating, or was this a progression of your interest in collecting and collating data?
I didn’t really make a conscious decision to expand into curating. At the time my main drive in starting the Day-to-Day Data project was to meet up with and work with artists who had similar ideas, interests and working methods. Because the kind of practice I have is so insular and personal it can often get quite lonely, beginning Day-to-Day Data was a way of finding a support network of artists.
I think the style of curating I’ve developed over the course of the two years I’ve been working on Day-to-Day Data is strongly influenced by the way I approach my practice. I attempt to be as well organised as possible when communicating with the other artists and to think through every eventuality to the smallest detail. As well as this Day-to-Day Data reflects my all-or-nothing mentality – it kept growing and growing until it became a vast project in itself.
How did you approach curating the Day-to-Day Data exhibition?
At the start, I wanted Day-to-Day Data to have the feel of an artist-led or collaborative project. I decided to put an open ‘call for submissions’ out about the project, which in many ways acted as a lonely hearts ad for data obsessed artists – I got hundreds of responses. The next step was to organise an exhibition development workshop, which would provide an opportunity for ten of these artists to get together and discuss what form the exhibition would take.
This took place back in August 2004. It was a really invaluable thing for the project as it generated some interesting discussions about the show, but also helped to develop a sense of community between the artists.
I already had the idea that I wanted the artists’ project to stretch across three different media, being simultaneously a gallery exhibition, web-based exhibition and a publication. I knew that all the work had to be new commissions and that there should be no hierarchy between artists involved in different aspects of the project. Essentially, I based my ideas for the show on the sort of opportunity I would like to be offered as an artist – the chance to make new work for a relevant project.
It was whilst working on how the three different aspects of the show would work, that artists who did not attend the workshop were bought back in to take part and the number swelled to twenty. The launch event and seminar day held at Angel Row Gallery in July 2005 was an opportunity for everyone involved to finally get together as a group.
Could you tell me a bit about the Daily Data Display Wall and your role as an artist in the Day-to-Day Data exhibition?
I am primarily an artist before a curator. It was always my intention to contribute to the exhibition, which as I mentioned would be the ‘perfect project’ for me to be involved in.
The concept for Day-to-Day Data – an exhibition of artists who collect, list, database and absurdly analyse the data of everyday life – came from my practice as an artist and the working methods I’d developed. I wanted my piece for the show to summarise my vision of Day-to-Day Data – to be, if you like, a centre-point for the show.
So I created the Daily Data Display Wall (a gallery-based installation) a new persona for myself in the form of the Daily Data Logger. I am really interested in works that can change and involve over time to reflect how life does the same. The concept for the Daily Data Display Wall is that it is altered and reconfigured every day to reflect data which is emailed into the gallery staff on a daily basis.
The data is based on twenty different readings and measurements recorded by the Daily Data Logger (me) about the ‘human specimen’ (also me). The piece plays with the idea of the role of the artist – how and why a work looks the way it does and what power the artist has to change it. Essentially, I wanted to lose control over the appearance of installation by allowing it to be dictated by potentially random events: the outside temperature, the amount of exercise I did, the names of the people I spoke to, the times of visits to the toilet, the amount of sleep I got and the time I woke up etc.
Where is the line drawn between art and science in your work and in the exhibition as a whole? Are the installations, text and web pieces not just a series of scientific experiments?
I am a great believer in abolishing a hierarchy for information – in levelling the data playing field. Why should one piece of information be given a greater value in society than another? The artists in Day-to-Day Data are generally dealing with information that may well be over looked by scientists or statisticians, not deemed worthy of further investigation. That is where the differentiation between the works in the show and scientific experimentation lies. It takes an artist to make the decision to study: the movement of shopping trolleys around the city (Adele Prince), the distribution of nail salons in Greater London (Richard Dedomenici) or the news headlines that are being read as you eat you pizza in the evening (Tony Kemplen). It takes an artist to contribute that new piece of information to the world. And in doing so, it takes an artist to highlight the absurdity of all our lives.
There are many conceptual ideas at play in the exhibition and many of the pieces seem in one way or another to be influenced by the spirit of the Situationists, Fluxus, or spatial conceptualism (like Richard Long), or on the other hand the precise, measured nature of Minimalism. Are there shared influences connecting the exhibition together?
I think that it’s difficult to pin down one artistic influence which links together all of the Day-to-Day Data artists’ practices, because there are so many people involved working across such a variety of media. Rather than an artistic influence the work is drawn together by subject matter being dealt with. All of the artists are inspired by everyday life – things that would otherwise be overlooked. This is not a new phenomenon at all and was certainly something that also inspired the Situationists. But the way in which the information is being dealt with in Day-to-Day Data is more contemporary – something that has come about as a result of the digital age and the modern-day state of information overload.
A god-father of Day-to-Day Data is the French writer Georges Perec whose essay The Infra-Ordinary kick-started the project. He wrote: “What’s really going on, what we’re experiencing, the rest, all the rest, where is it? How should we take account of, question, describe what happens every day and recurs everyday: the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the infra-ordinary, the background noise, the habitual?”
Who/what influences your work?
My biggest artistic influences are artists such as Tehching Hsieh and On Kawara who have both undertaken their own life long projects and seem to enjoy challenging themselves to ridiculous tasks, which I greatly admire. Perhaps in contrast to these two artists, I also want the representation of my challenges to have a great a visual impact within the gallery space – as though the work could almost exist without the data being collected, but that the data is there to give it a reason to exist. It that respect, I take influence from the world of installation and sculpture. I like the laboratory aesthetic.
Many of the artists exhibiting have taken on a ‘life project’ of sorts, including themselves within the art and often presenting personal data as art. Is this synthesis of artist as art significant?
For several of the artists involved in the show (myself included), the data collected and presented is very personal – a way of analysing the way you live your life and spend your time in an impersonal manner. For artists like Therese Stowell, who made a page-based work for the publication, the dry scientific approach she takes to her work allows her to be quite revealing about her personal life.
I am certainly interested in the idea of the ‘life project’ in my own practice: the idea that every project I undertake is just another chapter of a book about my life that won’t be complete until I die.
This is not the case for everyone involved in Day-to-Day Data however. The data being dealt with by the artists loosely falls into three categories, which were first defined during our exhibition development workshop back in August 2004. There are those dealing with ‘personal data’, such as Therese, myself, Helen Frosi and Hannah Brown. Then there are those dealing with ‘external data’ – digesting and representing data found in day-to-day life in general, such as Abigail Reynolds’ exploration of word histories and Gabrielle Sharp’s investigation into London Transports’ lost property system. And finally, there are those who have created ways of allowing the audience to generate data about themselves, including Christian Nold’s Bio Mapping and Lucy Kimbell’s Physical Bar Charts.
How were the first two exhibitions and have they in any way informed the work to be exhibited at Danielle Arnaud contemporary art in March?
It was always the intention that the Day-to-Day Data exhibition would evolve and change as it moved between the different venues. I never saw it as a conventional touring show and I wanted it to remain fresh and new at each stage of the tour. I wanted to create something that it would be possible to visit three times and to have three different experiences. Some different artists have been involved at the different venues, but also the very different shapes and scales of the three venues has meant that the show has had to change.
At Danielle Arnaud contemporary art, we are expecting a very different show – influenced by the size and style of the gallery, which is set in three adjoining rooms of her Georgian house. Both myself and Abigail Reynolds are developing new work which will take on a more domestic scale and will show a development of the pieces previewed at the Angel Row Gallery and Aspex Gallery.
When are you launching Sports Day, and what have you got planned for it?
Sports Day is a new artists’ network founded with Adele Prince in 2005. I met Adele through Day-to-Day Data, in summer 2004. We found that we had a lot in common, both in terms of the work we make as artists, but also in terms of our weekly routines. This may not come as a surprise, given that for both of us most of the time the former is influenced by the latter.
We both like to exercise (myself swimming and Adele running) and we thought we would create a network for ourselves and other artists who like to keep fit. It would be a way of encouraging and egging each other on to compete for greater sporting targets. Eventually the network will be based online, where artists can log on and share the sporting achievements with one another. We hope this will launch by the end of 2006. In April 2006 we are taking part in the AN Networking Artists Networks event in Nottingham, where we will formally introduce our network to the other artists present through a series of mini challenge in the spirit of the Olympic Games.
As a way of physically celebrating the launch of Sports Day we are both in training – Adele to run the 42km Edinburgh Marathon in June and myself to swim the 5km Swimathon in March.