15 July 2005
Nottingham Evening Post (Essential Guide p.25)
Armed with her alcohol breath tester, clicker counters, atmospheric thermometers, GPS and other gadgets, all attached to a utility belt fastened around her fetching red tracksuit, Ellie Harrison is the daily data logger.
She is after your personal data. And hers. Every day for the duration of the new exhibition at Nottingham’s Angel Row Gallery, 20-something Ellie will be noting down such vital statistics as the time she woke up, her body temperature, consumption of fluids and solids, gaseous emissions and her personal outlook. Then, every day, she will travel into the gallery to deliver the information to staff who, the poor fools, will have the task of transmitting the data to a series of tangible indicators such as flashing lights and monitor screens. One monitor will change colour to reflect Ellie’s body temperature, for example. Meanwhile, er, a plastic cactus will be inflated or deflated to reflect her daily gaseous emissions. The point of all this being…?
Well, it’s the same point of the entire exhibition which Ellie has curated. Titled Day-to-Day Data, the show brings together ten artists who all, in their own strange ways, set out to collect and collate huge amounts of largely irrelevant information.
Helen Frosi, for example, will attempt to discover winning Lottery numbers by examining ciphers in small daily occurrences; Hannah Brown will Ask visitors to fill in her Daily Efficiency and Behavioural Analysis Self-Evaluation Checklist to establish to what degree to match up to her vision of a perfect day; and in one of a number of matching web-based exhibitions, Adele Prince will be following the whereabouts of Marks and Spencer shopping trolleys.
For Ellie herself, this kind of thing constitutes her life’s work. After all, this is the woman who photographed everything she ate for an entire year; who logged her mileage on London’s public transport system, establishing that she almost got to Rio; and who measured how far she has swum across the world measured by distances in Nottingham swimming pools. Data collection and interpretation is her signature art. And with this exhibition, Ellie has succeeded in attracting national attention. It looks like being one of the best, most enjoyable, exhibitions of the year so far at the Angel Row Gallery.
The launch, next Wednesday, will feature one Sam Curtis, among other things. “He’s attempting to count everyone in the UK,” says Ellie. “He’s taking a kind of census and will be handing out badges with numbers on them to all visitors. He’s obviously number one.”
Why are these people doing such things? For Ellie, the art has always been about collecting the minute bits of information which make up our daily lives and then displaying them in dramatic ways. It’s a mildly subversive activity, throwing back at the world the daily data analysis which lies below all the comparison charts and league tables by which we judge and measure our lives and the services we use. It’s also about making a big scene over little things, immortalising the forgotten and forgettable moments. Surprisingly, Ellie’s managed to find a bunch of artists who think along the same lines as she does.
Visitors to Angel Row next week will see Ellie starring in her own video, in which, clad in red tracksuit and utility belt, she explains precisely how her Daily Data Display Wall is to be comprehended. “Making that utility belt was quite a big job!” she says. “The gadgets were mostly cheap, from Maplins. The atmospheric thermometer was on special offer and cost £2.98 but the GPS was £60, so that was pushing the boat out a bit…”
But where does she go after taking her obsession with data collection to the masses? She has a vague idea of cycling from Land’s End to John o’Groats in a month. “And the idea is that I’ll learn something new every day. One fact every day, but it won’t have to be connected to where I am or my cycling.”