The Aesthetics of Data Settings

What characterizes our aesthetic experiences of data? We are exploring what data can do to us, beyond what it does for us. When do data inspire feelings of curiosity, empowerment, anxiety, or resilience? The focus of our work is on data settings, rather than data sets. The term data set suggests something that is complete, discrete, and effortlessly transferable. But data are none of those things. We use the term data setting (first introduced in All Data Are Local: Thinking Critically in a Data Driven Society) to describe a broader context in which data are meant to be fully understood. Our current work explores the role of place and space in the creation of new data settings. We take a creative approach to questions about how data settings might work on an aesthetic level. In 2021, we made expressive use of painted rubber ducks to explore the aesthetics of cute and grotesque data in a physicalization of turbidity data from Intrenchment Creek in Southeast Atlanta (link). This summer, we are designing a new data physicalization for the Georgia Tech EcoCommons, which is described by its creators as “80 acres of green space across campus that follow what were the original naturally occurring stream paths” (link). We believe that data can transform the aesthetic experience of the EcoCommons, with implications for how visitors relate to the broader ecology in which our campus is situated.

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Yanni Loukissas
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