By Teena Nawabi
At first glance the SAC Art Gallery’s latest exhibit “Encountering Data” looks like nothing more than a bunch of computers and televisions in a large white room. Against the wall is a creative little piece called “It gets better, Alan,” consisting of a MacBook Pro and an old typewriter from the 1950s with a suicide note from an esteemed computer scientist in it. This may seem highly symbolic, but gallery visitors had typed their own words out onto the note. One phrase, printed boldly across the suicide note in black ink read, quite simply, “This is boring.”
And that right there is the entire exhibit in a nutshell. There are those who will find it incredibly boring; a giant room filled with computers and data that could put one to sleep faster than a documentary marathon. But to others, the idea of data being given life—breathing air into something so admittedly beyond human senses—is inviting and innovative. Through visualization and sonification, Encountering Data shows the nerd in us all just what can be done with data in an age of creativity and scientific advances.
Take, for example, the innovative piece “Decot” by Shawn Greenlee; a wooden bench in front of a large TV screen with bulky headphones connected to it. Faded black and white figures glided across the screen, blurred and out of focus. A constant, loud ringing of several different pitches came from the headphones. It’s not very obvious at first, but the screen is actually showing different parts of a human body. Two hands clapping are visible over time. It was such a universally disturbing piece that gallery visitors all had one word to define it: scary.
“First you see a hand, lips, nose…it’s so creepy,” said Michelle Liu, a digital arts student who opens and oversees the gallery. “The dark shadows are so eerie.”
Some pieces touched others on an emotional level. “Kinesthetic 1.0” by Joseph Esser, an electronic media installation, seemed to resonate with gallery dwellers.
“I love this one, it’s my favorite,” said Helen Tseou, a sound design student who was conducting research for a class paper. “Every time you pass by a string it vibrates, and each one has a different sound so you can play around with it.”
Other students had more abstract interpretations. “I think it means something in motion can be artistic,” said Marley Solomon, who stood by “Kinesthetic 1.0” and played with it for a while. “Its all in the name Kin-aesthetic, meaning it can be pleasing to the eye.”
The exhibit, however, is not without its flaws. Two of the exhibits weren’t functioning properly: “Earth to Disk” by The Art of Failure and “Ephemeral Artifacts” by Timothy Vallier and Moira Williams. Liu assumed that problems arose because the gallery was set up later than originally planned.
“It was rushed,” she said, “they had trouble setting it up because they had to get insurance first, so it was set up late.”
Liu said that her Digital Arts professor also noticed an error in the series “FFT/RMS #1” and “EEG” by Paul Prudence.
Still, one cannot deny the fascination drawn from other notable pieces in the exhibit: like a turntable booth, a giant map depicting statistics about U.S. oil, and a computer screen with rainbow and gray dots scrolling across it while a static beep chimes in the background.
Though not everyone may appreciate data interpretation and analysis, a visit to the “Encountering Data” exhibit is highly recommended. Those with a curiosity for unexplored media of art and communication will appreciate the innovation behind each piece. It can be a rewarding experience for those who are willing to step out of their comfort zone.