What do data, art and agriculture have in common?
The Fine Arts Data Visualization Lab at the University of Lethbridge in southern Alberta, Canada, explores this intersection. Each year, we work with a dedicated scientist from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in visualizing one of their data sets. We begin by visiting their research facility to get close to the science and ask questions. We take that knowledge back to our lab and let our curiosity drive how we analyze the story the data is trying to tell, and begin to build projects from that. We strive to combine traditional art-making materials and processes with new ones, and have worked with everything from interactive bar charts to weaving, from meticulously hand-drawn graphs to 3D printed data physicalizations, from crocheted data to electro-acoustic sound compositions.
Every few weeks we come together as a team to present and critique the work, and then we begin again. Sometimes the presentations inspire us to collaborate with each other, sometimes we are led to experiment with new techniques, and sometimes we scrap everything and start over. At the end of the term, each student has visualized the data 4 or 5 times, and each variation provides new insight for the scientist.
Led by Leanne Elias and Denton Fredrickson, the lab is asking questions about how art can bring meaning to data. it is our intent to work with data in a more exploratory way, with the goal of having an audience view or interact in ways that help them come to ask questions. Instead of the visualizations become the “one clear way” to understanding, we would like to see artists and designers interpret data in unique ways that invite the viewer to experience the data in ways that might lead to deeper questions and understanding. This innovative approach is less “let us tell you about this information” and more “how can you bring your own meaning and interpretation to this information?”
Just What IS Data Physicalization?
2015 in review: Working with Fall Rye Data
After meeting with such success in exploring how data and art work together on our first project, we asked Dr. Jamie Larsen to join our group. Dr. Larsen's work with Fall Rye was intriguing for a number of reasons: rye is a relatively uncommon grain to study, he has plenty of data, and it is a crop that the students were able to see locally.