Beyond Data: Baltan Labs & Kitchen Budapest

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During my residency in Budapest, Baltan Laboratories and Kitchen Budapest brought together their different working methodologies and networks in a series of two workshops in which Dutch and Hungarian artists and designers explore new ways of embodying digital data.

What does it mean to go ‘beyond data’? In the context of this temporary lab we explored mainly how we could go beyond visualizations, and to explore data embodiment. How is touching, feeling or listening to data different from experiencing traditional representations? Part of the methodology was to build on previous projects done by the two labs: to see if wecould use and recylce part of the work to extend and morph it into something else. Some projects from Studio EDHV and Kitchen Budapest were selected to (loosely) build on.

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I participated as artist/designer in the first workshop that took place at Kitchen Budapest from 27 September to 1 October 2011. The best concepts from this workshop week were selected to be developed further into physical interfaces and experiences presented in the form of an open lab during Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven from 22-30 October 2011. The results of these workshops will be brought back to Budapest for presentation in November 2011 as part of a series of Dutch-Hungarian cultural events.

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Data Granny Crochet Show

The concept I worked on during the week was a data performance called “Data Granny Crochet Show” with Attila (KB), Jeroen and Remco (EDHV). We proposed to turn the exhibition space into a live datamachine (metadata included). We would invite elderly women who enjoy knitting and crocheting to joing for a coffee and some needling. The idea was that we could use data to bring the abanded generation back into the conversation as the craft symbolizes the old ways, the tacit knowledge and the feminine practices of weaving. It can be argued that computing has its roots in these practices as one of the first automated data machines were looms operating with complex patterns and punch cards. The ladies get a task in the beginning: they scan the visitors for certain properties such as age, gender, overheard conversations etc. and modify their stitch accordingly, producing a variation in the fabric that is being created. During the exhibition, the ladies would produce a tangible data representation of the exhibition week.

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During the Dutch Design Week exhibition these ideas took shape (in slightly altered form), as ribbon counters, data strings and other tangible forms of live human data processing and visualising. The exhibition slowly came into being throughout the design week and loads of experimental low-tech live dataprocessing techniques were tried out. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it for the entire Dutch Design Week programme.

Experiencing alternative visualisations

One visitor remarked that normally, data visualisations are commissioned with a distinct purpose in mind (to educate, for marketing, urban planning, politics, etc.). In the live lab, we invited people to suggest their own readings and uses of the visualisations and spatial representations we created.

Angela de Weijer remarked:

“We, as participants, have been live data processors, making the invisible visible and tangible in the lab space. The in- ternational crew consisted of artists and designers who do a lot of their work with digital tools. Now, all of a sudden, everyone started producing analogue hands-on embod- iments of data, derived from the visitors, and processed in real-time. As the space filled, people could experience their impact on the lab space (by visiting) and observing the dif- ferent types of data that any one person can leave behind. Did our experiences add any new tools to the toolboxes of both labs? Are there possibilities for deeper research and development?”

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Early explorations with dataphysicalisation

Attila Bujdosó wrote an interesting reflection in the beyond data book that I would look to years later when thinking again about data ‘physicalisations’ who recognizes that the personal experiences dataphysicalisations enable could be an important step into fostering more engagement around collective issues. “Though physical, tactile or sensual experiences are only viable at an individual level, these kinds of experiences can be shared as stories and memories” (Bujdosó in Beyond Data:113). Also, Trevor Hogan and Eva Hornecker make interesting methodological observations about the assumption that physical data representations can harbour more engagement. They note that because capturing direct human experience is notoriously difficult, we must take a pheonomenological approach to our research, that involves recording, observing and listening to people’s responses when interacting with the data-driven artefacts. Although more clarity is called for,  they found in their research that the language used by participants tends to b more emotive than around traditional visualizations such as bar charts (Beyond Data: 134-135).

References:

Beyond Data (2011) Baltan Laboratories & Kitchen Budapest. Edited by Angela Plohman and Melinda Sipos.

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