Data as Culture

Describing data in art

The artworks on this site have been tagged with Data Types. We are exploring the range and type of data used in art.

Of living: Biological; Environmental
Of non-living: Object
Of social context: Commercial; Personal; Social; State
Of licence: Closed; Open; Shared
Of time/space: Geospatial; Live; Real-time; Static; Temporal
Of type: Anecdata; Causal; Generated; Metadata; Processed; Retrieved; Streamed
Of disclosure: Anonymised; Identifiable; Unknown

This taxonomy is designed for artists, curators, and consumers of any art which incorporates data as a material. It is a descriptive set of terms, that is, it eschews some technical accuracy for classifications that are more commonly understood and easy to apply.

We have aimed to create a concise set of terms which enable data to be described in an objective way. Its purpose is not to describe subjective response of the viewer or listener, hence the taxonomy does not include terms that can be applied to the affective descriptions of the experience of the work such as evocative or intimate. We have also avoided terms that describe the aesthetic that the data yields in the artwork itself such as dynamic or abstract. Whilst also useful for categorising and grouping art these terms are often personal and user-defined (by the artist, curator, audience, or critic) which makes a controlled vocabulary less effective and relevant.

The material (data) is examined from a number of perspectives—delivery method, how it emerged, format of existence, which system it represents, the source or origin, the license. In comparison, when considering a traditional art material, we may ask where it was made, who made it, where is it from, what does it comprise of, who owns it, how does it need to be stored, does it transform or degrade? Any number of the terms in the taxonomy may be relevant to any one artwork, and it should be used with this in mind. For example, Listening Post by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin would be tagged personal, social, live, real-time, temporal, retrieved, processed, anecdata.

The taxonomy has been developed by Julie Freeman, Queen Mary University of London, with input from the ODI. This work is supported by the Media and Arts Technology programme, EPSRC Doctoral Training Centre EP/G03723X/1.

Download the full publication (soon to be open access) for further explanation of the terms and wider context. Comments and suggestions are welcome via GitHub.