This past week the Walker Art Center filled with artists, coders, and interactive intelligentsia as Eyeo Festival, an art, interaction and information conference, brought these creative together for four days of talks, workshops, and interactions. What is Eyeo? Is it an art and technology event? Is it creative coding? Is it a data visualization conference? Is it design? Storytelling? “Yeah,” said festival co-founder Dave Schroeder, addressing an auditorium, “It is all of those things.”
Now in its third iteration, the festival acknowledges that art, interaction, and information — and their intersections — are changing, and these changes, intersections, and the projects that emerge from these territories are exciting and should be shared. Data is also changing; data is no longer numbers — it’s words, a social media feed, a color, a sensor, a houseplant, or a ship. Access points to data are expanding and processes and tool sets that manage data are evolving, becoming more transparent, and are now open and sharable.
What happens when possibilities, ideas and community come together? Great design, alternative storytelling, and inspiring theory ensue. Here are five reasons to follow the festival, and its practitioners, as this community grows and continues to leave brilliance in its path.
Projects > Products
The beauty of Eyeo is how brandless it is. Sure, Eyeo itself is now a brand, and there are certainly intersections between art, code, and advertising, but “interactive” isn’t limited to the next hot start-up, million-dollar app, or the latest service. Eyeo distinguishes itself from other festivals, like SXSW Interactive, for its lack of commercialization and focus on the intelligence of good projects. Eyeo reminds us that art is essential to digital innovation and the ethics of the community prioritizes responsive ideas, creative solutions, and alternative storytelling rather then trying to make a buck. As one panelist joked, “Data visualization artists are kind of the free R&D departments for [advertisting] agencies.” Perhaps a sarcastic side effect, but producing cool work on ones own volition, for me, is a true artistic gesture.
Ideas are better when they are shared
Media artist Kyle McDonald finds inspiration in a collective and continual awareness of how and what is released to the ether of the Internet. We only give things half of our attention anyway, so McDonald encourages us to think of projects in small but elegant and sharable terms and calls us to action with tweet-sized proposals for projects to take and run with. His brainchildren, each of them less then 140 characters, include open-ended proposals for the public to realize like “sand-sorting machine to automate sand granule tonalities” or “subtractive modeling in foam with high-frequency heterodyning.” Take these and do with them what you will. Others the artist turns into real artists projects, like a “scattered array of 50 mirror balls reflect light from three projectors, filling a room completely, casting patterns that fill the visitor’s peripheral vision,” which evolved into Light Leaks or “a room full of Sonos speakers that follow you through the space” turned into a interactive installation and collaboration with musicians the XX for their music video for “Missing.”
Software is a relevant art form
Artist and professor Casey Reas offered to dispel the density of software as visual arts medium, as well as the context for viewing and understanding software as art form. A professor at UCLA, Reas articulates that software-as-art arrived as early as the 1970s, and has been ushered out for decades, in tandem with Conceptual Art. Software meets the criteria of an artistic medium as it is both a tool set and matrial. Reas is not only a proponent of this thinking, he developed a series of principals for code that replace the antiquated ‘principals of art’ you may have learned in high school – Unity, Harmony, Variety, Balance – are replaced with computation-specific variables including Repeat, Parameterize, Transform, Visualize, and Simulate. These are not methods of process for emerging software artists, but also by extension criteria by which we can bring clarity to, and critical discussion around, digital art forms.
Data is not (just) numbers.
Visualization typically happens with numbers; quantitative truths are achieved by objectivity. Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenberg of hint.fm ask us to consider the subjective truths — what people are thinking, or rather, obsessing about: the data on the periphery of the data. The interesting link between objective and subjective data, and maybe an overarching theme at the conference, is the notion of the self-appointed project. What better example of the self-appointed project than Wikipedia! Viegas and Wattenberg use words with a color-coded ledger as data to uncover the secret obsessions of self-appointed Wikipedian entries, edits, and patrolling, in History Flow (2003). The result is a Missoni-esque pattern in florescent colors only native to hex-codes, riddled with subjective data and human interruptions and vandalism. In a more recent project, the collaborative creates composites from varying discontinuities of digital versions of famous artworks in Reproduction (2011).
A short, well-designed story
The “show don’t tell” mantra applies for data-visualization artist Giorgia Lupi, who acquaints us with the notion that stories don’t have to be told with articles or event statements. Storytelling through data mapping allows for retelling of non-linear and layered stories in ways that are clear and in data that can represent reductive, but complete, information. Often constraints — like time, space, and information — are also resources. The founder of Italian data visualization studio Accurat continued to show, not tell, us about the lives and works of 10 abstract painters through clean, well designed diagrams highlighting palette, size and artistic period of masterpieces, as well as love affairs and life events, throughout their career trajectories. The designer is also an advocate of drawing out ideas to visualize as she works, reminding us that the Italian verb for “draw” is synonymous with “design” or “plan.”