Search Results for: emotion

open data

Getting emotional about Open Data

Open Data is a hot topic. Almost everybody seems to agree that making local data available to the public makes perfect sense. No doubt, citizens benefit from the increasing transparency of processes in their city, but the publication of this data also brings up some questions that are uncomfortable for those private corporations that gather all our individual data and use it without our explicit permission. One of the core question is who should own the data that we produce as citizens and individuals: The institutions collecting the data that we generate through our use of their systems and services or we, the data producers, ourselves. Shouldn’t those banks, phone companies, credit card services, doctors, shops, network providers, internet retailers, search engines at least provide transparency of what they actually do with the data, thus giving us the chance to decide whether we want to use their services under those circumstances or not. Should they not provide us with access to the data produced by us, so we can monitor ourselves better and maybe improve our own recording systems and simplify our tax statements for example?

At the same time, we already suffer from such an overload of information, that perhaps only a minority of people would actually access ‘their’ data and make use of it. The same applies to the public data that is already accessible. Who but those who have an affinity to data are looking up public data sets that are made available and even make use of them? This is where data visualisation can help. Data visualisation is a medium which emphasises specific aspects of the given data and offers a particular reading of it. Thus it becomes an expressive an powerful communication tool, that can even create a new reality. Numerous groups like WE LOVE OPEN DATA and individuals worldwide have started to visualise open data for the public good, driven by their own curiosity and philanthropism.

Translating rows of data into easy-to-read maps or comprehensive diagrams is one way of bridging the gap between dry numbers and the public. But why not going one step further and translating data into an even more sensual experience that we are all familiar with – like food? This is the basic idea of the Open Data Cooking Workshop. People who like to cook (and eat) are given an opportunity to explore both the local cuisine as well as local data by translating data into cooking recipes and meals. As much as this sounds fun, this collaborative research is supposed to give people concrete insights into the quality and diversity of the locally available data and teaches them principles of data representation. Through the very personal, emotional and sensual activity of cooking food they get involved with the material, be it vegetables or numbers.

After all, it looks like one of the challenges of the Open Data movement–next to opening up relevant data that citizens can relate to in a personal way–is to give people tools, methods and media enabling them to interpret, individualise and express data in an emotional way.

review workshop

Interview in ESSEN magazine

Today we are full of data and information that not everyone can follow and understand and for this reason is spreading what’s called infographics. We can say that the proposed data cuisine produces a sort of ‘infofood’? Why you think it’s important to use food as a means of communication, or even as a means of information?

A lot of communication takes place around food. We are sitting around the dinner table, eating and having conversations. We stand in our kitchen, while we cook and talk. Food and communication are closely connected, both are social, and they can be personal and emotional. We just took this idea one step further by creating food and cooking meals as means of communication. We were interested to see if translating numeric information into tasty dishes would create different and more personal experiences of data. And it did. First of all, we all, both teachers and participants, learned a lot about Helsinki and Finland. We used local and national Open Data of all sorts. Of course, this data represents much more than simple facts, it tells stories about the Finnish society that most of us were not aware of. Then we used a lot of local ingredients like salmon, red beets, reindeer, suppilovahvero (a Finnish winter mushroom) and blueberries to make up dishes.

This meant learning a lot about the ingredients themselves, where they come from, how they are grown and harvested, about their nutrients and cultural meanings. I suppose that we were all quite surprised about the individual approaches and different results that the participants produced. Some decided to make a quite literal translation from numbers into amounts of ingredients. Others worked on the idea of the map and visualised the location-specific data. Again others tried to work less with the visual design but differences in taste. In that way all dishes were informative.

In the Open Data Cooking Workshop that you recently did in Helsinki participants were to prepare a dish combining ingredients and data. In your opinion, was it difficult for them to participate in the workshop and revise data with food?

Open Data Cooking is a very unusual experiment that nobody tried before. On the first day we gave introductions into information visualisation and cooking, local and seasonal cuisine as well as the situation of open data. Then we asked participants to do a exercise in which they had to randomly pick two data topics and four ingredients and think of meaningful relations between them and come up with ideas for dishes. It takes quite some associative thinking and imagination to bring those things together and it’s naturally easier for people with a creative practice.

Do you think that, with regard to the visual approach, this one could be more incisive for conveying information than others? In your opinion, can somebody external understand this data more easily?

Making up recipes, cooking, arranging food and tasting it is certainly not the straightest way to represent and understand data, but it is a a very sensuous and personal one. I would not necessarily speak of easy understanding, but of a deeper experience of data and its meaning.

Not so many people are interested in a so specific way in the relationship between food and data. Which is or was the deep need that brings you and your collaborators to start this research?

Most importantly I was looking for an interesting way to make people look at publicly available data and deal with it in an non-standardised way. I believe that art and design processes like the collective research we are talking about, enable us to see our society from a very different angle than the one that is presented to us by science, politics, history or mass media.

I saw some of the dishes that have been made during the workshop and they are very communicative, inviting and very different from each other. How important do you think is the sensibility of the creator who is preparing the dish? How important is his/her background?

The participants in this workshop had different backgrounds ranging from law student to software programmer. But that did not necessarily define their individual approaches. But they were all curious and open minded which I believe is a necessary prerequisite for such a collaborative research experience.

If we ask you to realise now a dish in line with data cuisine, which culinary variables and data would you put together?

A topic which I came across in our Helsinki workshop was gender related difference in salary. Women with the same qualification as men on average are paid less than them in most European countries. Surprisingly, in Germany this gender gap is smaller than I expected it to be. So I would probably compare women’s and men’s wages of another country like France where the difference is blatant. And I would choose potatoes because I associate them with women more than with men and green beans to represent the male. But this is just a first and spontaneous idea and at our workshop I learned that the deeper you go with research on the ingredients, the better ideas you produce.

This interview was published in Essen magazine, a Milano based on-line magazine. Questions by Giulia Tacchini, answers and reblogging by Susanne Jaschko, prozessagenten.

process + architecture process + art

Almost a prozessagenten manifesto

When visiting Zurich, Switzerland last week, I met Adrian Notz, the director of Cabaret Voltaire.

Cabaret Voltaire was founded 1911 by Hugo Ball und Emmy Hennings, Hans Arp, Tristan Tzara and Marcel Janco and became quickly the home of DADA. Today, the place hosts one of the few really nice little cafés in Zurich, a shop and most importantly, an exhibition and event space. Cabaret Voltaire produces a program that explores notions of contemporary DADA and I was impressed by the degree of well-ordered chaos and spontaneity that characterized the current show Al Dadaida: The Revolution to Smash Global Capitalism.

At the end of our meeting, Adrian gave me some gifts, items available at the shop, which I only took a closer look at when having returned to Berlin. Among them was a little book that I started reading immediately, since I found the title extremely promising –Merz World: Processing the complicated order. In it is an interview of Yona Friedman whose work I appreciate a lot and Hans-Ulrich Obrist. I was fascinated by Friedman’s perspective on Kurt Schwitters’ Merzbau–a work of art I was deeply impressed by already when I studied art history. Now that I am occupied with processes of art and design, this early fascination of mine makes total sense.

If permitted, I would just copy the whole interview and make it available completely. But you know how it is, and so I decided to make available a couple of quotes that i found most inspiring with regard to the work and conceptual basis of prozessagenten. In some instances it really comes close to a potential prozessagenten manifesto.

Yona Friedman:

What is most interesting for me in the Merzbau is what I would call a ‘Merz Principle.’ The Merz Principle means a random agglomeration of things that form a whole. I think this Merz Pinciple exists in everything. But first I have to clarify certain basic concepts:

Reality around us is not isolated facts, but rather processes. It is very important that is is not one part of the process that is interesting for us, but the process as a whole. The problem in particle physics is mathematical models. Mathematical models are absolutely perfect, except that they are unable to describe a process. They are conceived in order to get results. Now, in reality we are not really curious about the results except in engineering, for approximations, but we are interested in processes. A process can be described only and exclusively by its history, by a linear presentation. It means that we can have a different, less mathematical, and more precise presentation of the world around us by sequential description.(…)

The second term that I use differently to the term of ‘complexity’ is the term ‘complicated order.’ In complexity, extreme complexity, you have for example, a finite number of elements; where there is a direct relation between all of them, there will be only a finite complexity, a finite number of elements. In complicated order it is different. The complicated order is not a graph but a funny curve, which can go any way. Again: it is a one-dimensional relation, but for a finite number of elements I have infinite possible complicated orders. This is a very big difference. And what we meet is the complicated order.(…)

This complicated order is more far more general than we think. My dog is a very intelligent being. He lives in a world where he is not using mathematical formulas at all, but he completely understands the world and shows absolutely healthy reactions. What I want to say is that you cannot describe behavior by mathematical formulae, except as sequences.

The difficulty with the city, with architectural products, is that they are based on behavior. Without the behavior of the user they are not complete. The only thing that completes them is that they are used. A building that has no users is not a building. It is a ruin. This shows that in architectural cities the planners are supposed to do something to satisfy the complicated order of behavior. But this is impossible because (…) It is erratic. That means one step of somebody’s behavior does not give us the slightest information about what will be his next step. It can be anything.

Intelligence starts with improvisation an this is true in every field.(…) A good example is science: Newton and Einstein were improvisers. They had ideas born through improvisation. Only then was their work to find mathematical justification. So in this kind of work we improvise inside an erratic world and then, after that, we try to rationalize. And I think this is important as a principle because in classical architecture, in functionalist architecture, everywhere, it is first presented by the rational aspect. But it is in fact the rational aspect that should come afterwards.

First of all, it is an image–i don’t like the word ‘vision’–that creative people build. They build this image and they rationalize after. Very often the poverty of architecture is based on the fact hat we start with words, with theory, with the paper. We have to have the image in our head before putting it on paper.(…) In addition to this, again, the image is a continuous process. I am sure that Schwitters didn’t see in advance what he was going to do. It developed step by step. It was a sequence, and it is a pity that it couldn’t be recorded as a sequence. And I think, evidently, that the city is like this: it is a process, it is not a product. Architecture is this way. Science is also this way, and so on. And now another factor comes in: the process is emotional. It is not rational. We rationalize art. And it may be that I am not right.(…)There is no final state, it is a long, ongoing process. In this ongoing process everybody is participating, not only the architect.(…)

My personal experience is that the most one can do is trigger a process. The process goes its own way, but you have to start it.(…)

Also, I don’t talk about works of art, I talk about processes of art. We know that the public completes the work of art with its associations. I find it almost more reasonable that you make a work of art, and somebody adds something to it. From your point of view this might be an error of aesthetics. But it is not an error from the human point of view.


process + art

Imagine a work of art…

Sometimes when I am daydreaming I dream of an artwork. An artwork that has not yet come into being. An artwork that at this point exists only in my mind, or maybe in yours too. Maybe you too have thought of it already. If not, and you continue reading, I might plant the idea of this artwork also in your mind, where it will grow and change, and take different shapes. And this would make sense, because the artwork I am daydreaming of is a process.

Imagine the place you live at–the house, the street, the neighbourhood, the city. You have lived there for a while. It’s all familiar to you. You know the place, and everyday you see some change happening. The security guard never stands at exactly the same spot, the plastic bag that got entangled in the branch of the tree in front of your house becomes more an more torn, the neighbour who hardly greeted you last Saturday, today looks at you with a quirky smile. But also bigger changes happen. One morning you wake up and there is this bulldozer blocking your street and you’ll learn that you have to live with noise and dust for the next six months. And on the billboard across the street they put up a shocking poster asking for donations to the victims of the earthquake and nuclear pollution in Japan.

All this is happening around you, and you are a part of it, because you change too. Everything is in constant motion, in development, at different speeds, directions and levels of complexity.

Imagine an artwork that shares these qualities. An artwork that like you is connected to what happens around it, that is part of your life just like the tree with the plastic bag. An artwork that is there every day, but that changes and moves, driven by what happens locally or far away. A public artwork even that you share with others, that has a meaning to them too. A piece of art that defines a place and gives it its identity as much as the people, events and things around. A process visible or audible or sensible and woven into the the fabric of the city, your home, your surroundings. A subtle thing that you can notice, if you feel like, or ignore if your mind is occupied with other things, something you can talk about with your neighbour, just like you talk with her about the ever changing weather.

It might take art another fifty years to produce this piece, and if it ever comes into being it will certainly be made with ‘new’ media, whatever this then may be: electronic and digital or organic and living or any other material enabling process, flux and change. Perhaps I am sentimental thinking that art can add something to life that is more than an intellectual challenge, a single emotional and sensory event, a self-contained story, a cathartic intervention or an beautiful object. In fact, it was this hope for ‘more’ that drew me into media art in the first place. This happened in the mid 1990s, when interactivity and started to spread and there was a handful of festivals energized by experimentation, invention and the idea of a new culture and society.

Even if the digital revolution did not turn society around in the way idealists were hoping, it has had a massive impact on the way we live. Unnecessary to repeat what the computer and internet did to communication, the global spread of information, the grasp of time and space, the concept of authorship etc. The cultural change is so deep and ongoing, that we cannot extract ourselves from it to assert its consequences in its entire complexity and completeness.

To art, technology has brought among other things basis on time and process. The first describing the development of a narrative, a sequence of events in an artwork in relation to progressing time, the second referring to the openness of a time-based development, a certain degree of self-organization and performativity.

The next step–one that has not yet been taken in art–is the combination of duration and process, a concept that is intrinsic to living systems. This change without ceasing, the continuous transition from one state to the other, is what Henri Bergson describes as the the property of human existence in the first chapter of ‘Creative Evolution’.

Bergson, Henri, Creative Evolution. Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1911.

This article was published in INTER, art actuel 109, Les Editions Intervention, Quebec City, Canada, September 2011.