Abstract: Making Reality Really Real Conference

Consciousness Reframed 11 | Trondheim, November 4-6, 2010, More information

Earth, Wind, Water, Fire, Quintessence, Data: The Art and Science of Data Gathering in Moist Reality

Roger F Malina
Director Observatoire Astronomique de Marseille Provence

We live in the petabyte era, with instruments everywhere generating large and growing volumes of data. Many of these instruments are now robotic and autonomous. Modern science evolved in a data poor environment; today scientists find themselves in data rich environments and as a result the scientific method is changing. Indeed many scientists no longer observe or experiment on the world, but study and experiment on databases about the world. Scientists model the world with data-generating complex simulations and with data pattern analysis techniques. The emerging science of complex networks provides new approaches for understanding the structure and behavior of data in ways that are domain independent. Visualisation and sonification sciences acquire new epistemological dimensions. I want to argue that data is acquiring a new ontological status and that novel approaches both in art and science are evolving to recognize the new situation. Leonardo Da Vinci recorded in his notebooks his intricate experiments on the flow of water as context for his development of representational techniques in his paintings. In a similar way, artists today gather data and conduct aesthetic, and artistic, experiments on data flows, to understand the flow and nature of data.

New forms of data driven art have been developed by artists, and the theoretical field of information or data aesthetics is being developed. In people’s and citizen’s science, in micro-science projects, thousands of artists and others outside of scientific institutions are gathering data for their own purposes using a proliferating variety of instruments accessible to them. I have argued in the Open Observatory Manifesto that citizens have a right to access to all data taken about them and their world that is obtained using public funds; and secondly that citizen’s have a duty to take data about themselves and about their own world. The corollary of the truism that “data is power” is that one owns the knowledge one has helped create. I will illustrate my talk with examples of art-science projects that explore information aesthetics through data driven art and micro-science. One aspect of the “moist reality” argued by Roy Ascott can be seen as a hybrid combination of the data we obtain on the world through our senses and the dataflow that our instruments immerse us in. Data is as fundamental a category as earth, fire, wind, water and the quintessence.