Day-to-Day Data
Sarah Cook
August 2004

What happens when you put a bunch of obsessive-compulsive, taxonomical and cataloguing preoccupied artists in the same room for a workshop? Th
ey are meticulous in the presentation of their work. They have the best documentation of art projects imaginable. And you bet it’s all colour-coded and neatly filed away in their backpacks and briefcases at the end of their talks.

The workshop held at Angel Row Gallery for their forthcoming exhibition Day-to-Day Data (summer 2005) brought together 10 artists who collect or approximate data, then analyse or manipulate it, and lastly make it visible (or audible or tangible) for an audience. Over the course of discussing their proposals for new art works, these two axes (collect or approximate; analyse or manipulate) joined together with a number of others which made it possible to plot artistic practice on a multi-layered table; creating an index if you like, of the artists’ creative impulses - View chart >

By asking the artists whether they felt a greater tendency towards the collection of data or the manipulation and display of it, what began as a workshop for a straightforward thematic group show (art projects made from ‘day-to-day’ data) became a lot more complex. Some, like
Abigail Reynolds
who has been working in residence at the Oxford English Dictionary making unusual word maps, or Charlotte White, who seeks to mix music compositions algorithmically through frequency (meaning occurrence not pitch) in statistics she has collected (i.e. ‘Every second 2650 cups of tea are drunk in the UK’) feel that it is only through their visualisation or encoding of the data into an accessible format that the information – which might have nothing to do with them personally – becomes interesting, both to them and others. As Lucy Kimbell – who by contrast has made work from intensely personal data, producing an index (like a stock market index) of herself as a person, generated from forms circulated to friends and acquaintances – commented, ‘coins on the street are not data; by collecting them we turn them into data’.

The question that emerged from the workshop that even a statistical survey couldn’t answer was how the artist’s method might affect the relevance of the quotidian data collected (or, more interestingly, vice versa). What is done once data is turned into knowledge, and to whom is that knowledge useful? Find a penny pick it up and all day you’ll have good luck. While all of these artists probably pick the penny up, not all of them think about how it is spent, or whose pocket it dropped out of. Helen Frosi’s aesthetic and archival annotation of the coins she picks up (or the myriad of other items she collects from letter franks to marks on the wall – finding, tracing, bagging, tagging and mapping them as she goes) is not distributed other than through the frame of the art gallery, it remains intensely personal. Homeless people might well like to know which neighbourhoods in London have the most ‘lucky pennies’ Adele Prince’s, current project Lucky World instead uses the internet to chronicle not only the trajectory of the pennies from her to friends around the world but also the luck they bring her (though she now hopes to chart the lives of abandoned shopping trolleys – also a useful fixture in the life of a homeless person, though I fear supermarkets may be more interested in her tagging of trolleys than Big Issue sellers will be). In other instances, such as the lists and rules generated by
Hannah Brown
(she often consults with couples and subsequently creates a book of love rules for them; she’s also been matching lonely hearts by cross referencing the singles ads in various newspapers), the routine data investigated (did I snog someone I shouldn’t have when I got drunk last night?) reflects back onto the methodology of collecting it. To engage with the question of use-value would be to enter into an extensive debate with the artists of the social (personal and political) impact of their research and collecting, to ask them how what they do is any different that what train-spotters do. And that, I fear, would be to partially miss the point of their work, and of this show.

While every artist is concerned with the everyday (not the mundane but the readily available), not all are obsessively personal about it. However, the number of artists whose own biographies are explicitly present in their art does outweigh those whose daily lives don’t figure. Tony Kemplen tracks international news events in bites of pizza, graphing in pie chart style his habit of eating supper in front of the television. Ellie Harrison (also the exhibition’s curator) is similarly interested in quantifying the seemingly unquantifiable – rating events in her daily routine, displaying the results in an out of context manner in order to change their meaning and subsequently making other people aware of their own routine behaviour.

The artist’s role in society has always been questioned – is it useful, as is the case with the craft person or the cultural critic, or is it an ‘excess’, an indulgence, a leisure activity for nought but our aesthetic gratification? Richard Dedomenici playfully maps what he calls the Nail Salon Belt around London, charting social class and upward mobility within the M25 circular. Would sociologists, urban planners and realtors benefit from Richard’s plotting? Would they generate simulations and predictions from it? This may indeed be true of Christian Nold’s Bio Mapping project. By pairing a GPS device with a biometric reading apparatus (finger sensors that track your heart rate like those you might wear in a hospital for instance), Christian can ascertain if crossing the road at one intersection is more stressful for a pedestrian than crossing at a different intersection a block further down the street.

The even spread across the axes of the use-value of the data, the open or closed approach to the presentation of the data, and the subjective or distanced engagement with the content of the data itself is what promises to be the most interesting angles and points of tension in this exhibition. While data is the medium in which all of the artists work, the methods they employ vastly change the meaning of the data they have gathered, and hence allow room for a reflection on how it is we experience information itself.

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