19 July 2005
Data analysis sounds like a very contemporary, computer-age activity. Everything from CCTV footage to shopping receipts, bank balances to medical records, is examined by people looking for patterns, and their reports regularly pour from universities and think tanks. But it is only the nature of the information that has changed since humankind first tried to reach the future in the patterns of the stars, or of patterns of tea leaves in an empty cup.
For Ellie Harrison, curator of new exhibition Day-to-Day Data, the interest in information collection stems from a feeling that the decisions about what counts as important omit much that is interesting about our everyday life. “Many of the artists I’ve chosen here are fascinated by data nobody would usually bother with”, she explains, “so in one sense the exhibition is asking what scientists and statisticians are really doing”.
Now, the gathering of information has become a big political issue, and the work of some of the artists takes on additional layers. Sam Curtis’s absurd decision to simply count everyone in the UK is inevitably loaded in a context where ID cards look increasingly likely to be introduced. Adele Prince’s web-based piece involves tracking down ‘abducted’ shopping trolleys on behalf of supermarkets, while Hannah Brown’s work takes a hard look at her personal efficiency, matching daily achievements to a ludicrously detailed checklist of objectives.
Works such as these satirise employers’ increasingly detailed supervision of employees, and marketers’ insatiable interest in our movements and purchases. Other works take a more playful or poetic approach to the theme. “Helen Frosi’s work goes into vast detail about the markings on banana and apple skins, and the patterns of coffee dregs”, says Harrison. “She then invents procedures that might find winning lottery numbers in the data – scientific methods applied to unusual data”. Harrison continues to collect information about herself, something she’s done since her student days at Goldsmith’s College in London. A Daily Data Display Wall will use lights and monitors to display everything from the artist’s food intake, sleep patterns and walking quotas to notes on the atmospheric pressure outside the gallery.
Like blogging and reality TV, this obsessive interest in the minutiae of daily life, and the urge to make it public, seems like a new form of autobiography. For Harrison, the difference lies in the playful manipulation of the material.
“One artist, Therese Stowell, charted her experience of 45 emotions over a 24 hour period”, she says. “The result reveals a lot about her emotions, in a very unemotional way”. “Tony Kemplen’s piece involves watching the news on TV while eating a pizza”, Harrison adds. “Each time he took a bite, he made a screen grab and photographed the pizza. The finished work is a flick-book showing random news moments and a vanishing pizza. It echoes the way we consume current affairs”. As Harrison points out: “It’s about recording things that you might not otherwise notice or be interested in”.