I began the term by exploring Edward A. Skanken’s book ‘Art and Electronic Media’. The book explores the ways in which electronic media facilitate the liberation of art from conventional stasis and provide a means for it to consist in light of itself. I was concerned with technology and interactive art, but was not sure how to bring these two together, considering my lack of experience with programming and coding. I soon became centred on the thing that drives technology and allows it to exist in the first place: data–the binary digits that make up all electronic programs; the bi-product of internet searches; the thing that surrounds us, yet that we are all unaware of. Data is so secretly entrenched in our lives that I found it impossible to ignore. It brings us together and allows us to discover and search the world in such a way that was never possible before computers. My focus was, also, on this binary world; the world of 0s and 1s; a world that, according to popular Amazon show ‘Mr. Robot’, is simply made up between the choice of a 0 or a 1; a yes or a no. All data becomes or is binary. There is so much data, meaning there is a never-ending sequence of binary.
My initial idea centred on the events of the European migrant crisis. I was not so much focussed on the humanitarian problem, but more on how much information and data was being created from it. These people, Syrians, Afghans, Pakistanis, all had their own stories, their own memories, their own lives, but were all being turned into statistics. These physical, living people were simply being turned into binary and figures, 0s and 1s. ‘800,000 to Germany, 20,000 to England, 60% from Syria etc’. In my opinion, all of this data was meaningless; all these statistics had no worth to anyone. People simply read these figures, pause briefly to consider how terrible they are, before finishing their breakfast and heading off to their jobs. There is no cause for reaction because the information has become digitised–the numbers have become meaningless figures, they are, as originally stated, of no worth to anyone; no-one can comprehend 800,000 people, or 100,000 people. My problem with the crisis was not so much on the innocent people losing their lives, as stated, but the way in which the media churned out so many reports, images, figures and documents. The more that was written about it, the more meaningless it became. This is where the problem lay: can anything on this scale be meaningful? Can we ever truly experience data? Can we confront this data in any way?
My first piece centred on this reduction of entities into data. I rigged a CRT TV with a news report from CNN. I then asked a large number of my course members to watch the video. As they watched the video, I sent them a link via Facebook. This link directed them to a questionnaire, asking them to complete questions on the article they had just watched. The aim of the piece was to show that, when people are given figures, they ignore them because the numbers have no use to them. There is no need to store that information. I predicted that, in most circumstances, people would not remember the figures because they would be desensitised to the whole crisis due to the amount of data surrounding it. My predictions were correct.
Out of the people I asked, only one person came close to getting all of the answers right. The reason for this, however, was because they knew that they would have to answer the questionnaire, so memorised the numbers as they appeared. All other participants struggled to remember the simplest answers, admitting that there was too much being told to them. What I found from this piece was that, while people may have had their own opinion regarding the crisis, they had become completely desensitised from it. They had been bombarded with so much information that they had turned away from the issue. This was what I had hoped to discover. I decided that I would continue to look at this issue of data overload, but wanted to get the scale of this information across; I wanted to depict just how much had been written about the crisis in a small period of time, to show how easy it was to become desensitised from the whole issue.
I had found, from this piece, however, that art in this new era of technology was becoming more to do with handling and representing information. I had used other people to create the work because they were as “much a piece of the information as tomorrow morning’s headlines”, something which Gillette remarked in Skanken’s book. Gillette’s view that, as a viewer, “you take a satellite relationship to the information. And the satellite which is you is incorporated into the thing which is being sent back to the satellite.” is one which is echoed in this piece. The most important function of this piece was to integrate the audience into the information; to involve them in it to see if they had become desensitised to the information presented. The fact that the piece ended up being bits of paper on the wall physically shows that the viewer has become the information. Even writing about the results of the piece turns the participant into information because they are, like the refugees, becoming data, figures, statistics which are ultimately meaningless. The irony of the piece is that it is just as meaningless as the topic it attempted to address. But what is once again important to note is that the piece is not addressing the migrant crisis, it is addressing the data crisis: there is so much of this information, that everything has become meaningless. This digital world is meaningless to everyone because at no point is everyone, or anyone, going to need all of, or even some of, the information. Most of it will dissolve into nothing whilst still being available.
I ran into a number of problems with this piece. Firstly, many complained that the CRT TV hurt their eyes and made it difficult to watch the video. This was not something that could be readily changed, although I believe it did not have an adverse affect on the results. Secondly, I found that I needed a way to know who was completing the questionnaires as more than one person was submitting them at a time. To combat this, I inserted a name field as the first question. This is important because participants wanted to compare their results to those of other participants when the piece was hung on the wall.
The results were printed and hung up in my studio space to give a scale of the number of people I asked, but also to give a physical example of what I had created. If the results had remained digital, I do not feel the same affect would have been achieved.