06 May 2012

Data is often seen to be as far removed from art as can be. A way of obtaining facts, information and statistics, it is technological rather than personal and beautiful.

Or is it?

Many designers and artists have straddled the line between art and information and used infographics and visualisations to create something that is not only relevant, but beautiful.

Bryan Christie, a New York based designer who regularly produces visualisations for the New York Times, is doing just that. Christie has used a combination of medical text books and MRI scans to reproduce the human hand in a virtual 3D space. The image is both scientific and beautiful.


Christie said: “The medium I work in is a new form of photography; it is both sculptural and photographic. I model the figures in digital 3D on the computer then use a virtual camera within the computer to take a picture of the piece. There’s an interesting process that occurs in that my work is sculptural and exists in virtual three-dimensional space yet in the end it is viewed in two dimensions much like a photograph.”

Another example of the crossover between data, art and popular culture is Radiohead’s music video for House of Cards from their 2008 album, In Rainbows. The video was created using data visualisations created by Aaron Koblin. It uses 3D plotting technologies to collect information about the shapes and relative distances of objects, including lead singer Thom Yorke’s face, and then visualises the data. The result is eerily beautiful and surprisingly human, with the fragile nature of the lyrics and Yorke’s ethereal vocals perfectly complimented by the ghostly appearance of his face and the disconnected nature of the overall visual image.


Artists, too, have recognised the potential of data in art. In 2008 the Museum of Modern Art featured an exhibition by Harris and Kamvar, entitled I Want You to Want Me, and which made use of data visualisations to present the pieces. The exhibition, which included a fully interactive 56 inch touch screen installation, chronicles the world’s long-term relationship with romance, and gathered data from a variety of online dating sites in order to give viewers an insight into people’s personal lives. I Want You to Want Me was a beautiful collaboration of computer science, maths and art that uses data to evoke viewers’ emotions at a very personal level. The infographic image further raised questions about the virtual nature of modern relationships regarding dating sites.


Data visualisations are thus not only an informative way to present a narrative, but can also be a beautiful one. In certain circumstances it can even be considered to be art.