I harp on A LOT* about how we need to teach people about data in many different ways; through play, art, sport; involving different sectors, cities, countries, cultures; as well as the more traditional maths, geography and science pathways.

One of the things I really miss about working at the Open Data Institute is the Data as Culture art programme, lead by Julie Freeman and Hannah Redler Hawes. In their own words, Data as Culture ‘engages new and diverse audiences with work by artists who explore data critically and materially. We commission internationally renowned artists and artists in residence for our headquarters in London, for other organisations and galleries, and public spaces’

If you’ve heard about one artwork from DaC, I guarantee its the iconic Vending Machine (which I’ve just realised I’ve been incorrectly calling Recession Crisps for years!) by Ellie Harrison. Vending Machine continuously scans the BBC News RSS feed, releasing free crisps when words relating to the recession make the headlines.

“Whilst seemingly an act of generosity — gifting free food at moments when further doom and gloom is reported — the Vending Machine also hints towards a time in the future when our access to food may literally be determined by wider political or environmental events. We may not be able to access what we want, when we want, at the touch of a button.” — Ellie Harrison

Some say the crisps (and privacy rights of cats) are the sole reason he joined.

Or perhaps you’ve met Ceiling Cat from the current LMAO exhibition which is ‘a physical version of the internet’s most famous feline meme’ and was installed in my honour** the day after I left ODI.

Image credit: that Peter K Wells

But you might not know about the other art that’s been curated and hosted through DaC [Julie and Hannah have done an exceptional job in logging every artwork here] and so today’s NaBloPoMo blog post is dedicated to highlighting some of those.

I don’t have favourites, except for the fact that I do, and here they are:

Corruption [Thomson & Craighead]

I’m a big fan of Thomson & Craighead. They were our first artists in residence at the ODI, and there wasn’t a single artwork within the Data Anthropologies collection that I didn’t adore. I remember Alison (Craighead) saying to me that their art puts you under a sense of pressure and that your response is part of the artwork itself, which has always stayed with me.

Thomson & Craighead made me think about identity, the beauty in distortion, how time is a social construct, and how easily the originally intended meaning of something can be manipulated and transformed.


I was also really happy every time I walked into the kitchen during 2015, because ‘Voyager’ was on the wall and was my daily reminder that we are a tiny part of something so much bigger, and still have so much to discover.


Transmission One and Transmission Two [Dan Hett]

I was fortunate enough to be sitting next to the area where Dan was painting both of these artworks, and it was a pure joy to watch his creative process (excitement, deliberation, frustration and all) unfold, and to have him share with me the story behind — and his feelings about — the artwork. Of course, I asked Dan to reserve Transmission One for me to purchase when I can afford his art.

“Transmission One and Transmission Two are paintings created and defaced by the artist to provoke debate around his view that governments’ attempts to control or ban encryption are preposterous. Dan submitted his own bank details, shopping lists, secrets and other personal information to be encrypted in a computer program he created, and he randomly selected two of the encrypted messages for the work.

While Dan began the work before 22 May 2017, the date of the Manchester suicide bomber attack, the final piece is informed by debates around security in the aftermath of the event. His brother Martyn Hett was killed in the attack. This devastating personal experience strengthened rather than weakened Dan’s conviction that enforced government encryption controls are misdirected activities in the so-called war on terror.”

http://culture.theodi.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Tranmission-series-by-Dan-Hett5238-770x513.jpg (PS: Not actually Dan Hett in picture, but Jack “the suit” Hardinges)

I also loved Dan’s Twenty Thousand Seconds and Three hundred and sixty seconds which were part of the Thinking Out Loud exhibition in 2016–17.

We Need Us [Julie Freeman]

Finally, it’s We Need Us by Julie Freeman. I’m just going to admit that I have a total girl crush on Julie — she’s an incredibly talented woman, full of heart and soul, creativity and passion. Once I started at ODI in 2013 and met her, I started to think about art in a completely different way. Suddenly, art became more accessible, it was something I could see stories in and it became a really personal experience. Julie exposed me to completely different ways of thinking about data, and its one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about teaching people about data in different ways.

“I’m particularly excited about life data — data from living things — so that we can translate nature and get new perspectives”

I think Julie’s TED talk describes ‘We Need Us’ much better than I ever could. But I will encourage you to give yourself permission to take a quiet moment from your hectic day, visit We Need Us, browse the different artworks and see how they make you feel.

Of course, there’s many other pieces from Data as Culture that I enjoyed, including Forkbomb, Punchcard Economy, Fairytale for Sale, The SKOR Codex and Pixelquipu.

Hannah, I’ll also never forget when you secretly shared with me the way to play Inca Telefax into the office and I would do it at random points throughout the day to confuse people. I’m pretty sure there’s still some folks who didn’t realise it was me behind the magic. 😂


Alistair Gentry is the current Data as Culture embedded artist in residence. His work explores institutions, authority, trust and distrust. Watch his ODI Lunchtime Lecture if you missed it the other week.

You can also read this blog post ‘Julie Freeman and Hannah Redler Hawes in conversation’ to find out more about their world.

*This definitely stems from one of the people who inspires me — Natalie Kane — and her work exploring magical narratives with technology.

**absolutely not true.

Design, leadership, open culture, data, ethics, justice. These are my personal thoughts on work.

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