4 July 2015
Academy of Art & Design FHNW, Basel (Switzerland)

Ellie Harrison has a love-hate relationship with data.

With her early works such as Eat 22 (2001-2) – for which she photographed and recorded information about everything she ate for a year – she was one of the pioneers of ‘lifelogging’. In the days before smartphones and apps, she manually tracked and made public huge amounts of information about her everyday routine. Such as the total distance she travelled on London Transport in a year (9,236 km) for Gold Card Adventures (2002-3) and what she was thinking about every time she had a hot drink for Tea Blog (2006-8). For her final project Timelines (2006) – currently on display as part of the Poetics & Politics of Data at HeK – she attempted to document everything she did, 24 hours a day, for four weeks.

But as technologies began to emerge to make this obsessive self-tracking easier, Ellie became sceptical of the process, having experienced some of its negative side effects firsthand. She publicly ‘quit data collecting’ in 2006, publishing the book Confessions of a Recovering Data Collector in 2009. However, she quickly came to realise that this desire to quantify the world as a way of dealing with and understanding its complexities wasn’t that easy to shift. It was an ingrained mindset: the result of her upbringing in Thatcher’s post-Fordist Britain and of being one of the first wave of young artists to develop an art practice which had the computer as its central tool.

Her recent work attempts to put this desire to visualise data to good use – navigating the vast swathes of it we are now bombarded with to seek out and demystify important information about our political and economic systems – bringing it to life in playful and provocative ways. See Vending Machine (2009), A Brief History of Privatisation (2011) and her most recent performance / event High Street Casualties: Ellie Harrison’s Zombie Walk (2015).

In her talk at the Data Traces conference at the Academy of Art & Design FHNW in Basel she discussed these projects and more, as well as exploring some of the human anxieties that feed this desire to quantify and control our world and sharing some of her own strategies for resisting the quantification of the soul.