Ever wondered where all your iPhone messages, social media pictures and personal information is stored and subsequently used? Somerset House’s latest exhibition delves into this through exploring the datarification of our world. Every day we produce huge amounts of data and in a culture that now utlises and promotes the collection of it (how many people now have fitness bands that are all about tracking your every move?) we have had an explosion of data - a 'Big Bang'. The exhibition beings with the basics, where all of our data is stored. Rather than some ethereal, not quite tangible place that we imagine all of our data saving to, it actually all gets stored in giant data storage units made up of heavy machinery whirring away 24/7. Artist Timo Arnall captures this by projecting moving footage from inside of one these units onto two walls highlighting the vast spaces these centres - that are constantly waiting for our data – physically cover.
The exhibition continues as a collection of information about how easy it is to find and use people's data, as well as, artistic interpretations of the infinite scale of the world's data usage globes depicting mobile phone density per person per country. A stand out experiment, 'I Know Where Your Cat Lives', visualised a sample of 1 million public pictures of cats through plotting them onto Goggle Maps. All photos were found through public sites such as Instagram and highlights how companies can use and interpret personal data. A scarier example comes from Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s ‘Stranger Visions’, a series of sculptured human faces based on DNA that Dewey-Hagborg collected from objects like chewing gum and cigarette butts discarded by the general public. Thinking past the obvious creepy nature of this experiment, it perfectly highlights the wealth of information we literally leave lying around.
I imagine the exhibition could be somewhat alarming for those who are naïve to how personal data is stored and accessed by companies. However, I left the exhibition with the sense that in a world where we are increasingly relying on data to make the world more efficient, we need to remember not to forget the ‘human bits’ to life. As Jonathan Harris' 'Data Will Help Us' manifesto points out, we need to not abandon wisdom, morality and personal experience in favour of ‘show me the data’ attitude.
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