Data Visualisation

A new area of media art, data visualization has become more prevalent due to the rise and use of the Internet. With our Internet search histories stored as metadata for 2 years by the Australian Government[1] and similar systems being established by other world governments, this opens a dialogue about the public and private limits of our data. This data allows for surveillance, wherein we as citizens are actively being watched and monitored and our data is used either for or against us. Arguably, most benign form this surveillance takes is through the targeted advertising we see on websites, regarding our hobbies or shopping choices. Now, this introduces the role of the artist, in which these ethical issues about the control, use and distribution of data by government an corporate[2] entities is discussed and interpreted into art.

Artists working with data are apart of what constitutes data art as both contemporary and media art. Utilising the available technology of now,[3] data is a new form of medium. This is a new way for artists to articulate, critique and interpret the modern world. The way in which artists use data distinguishes data art from data presentation. With the constant abundance of technologies,[4] it is incredibly easy for people to both track their data and have data tracked. Data visualization is informative and empowering to artists and civilians, and inspires the tools and methods which may be used to not only control our personal data but shift the status quo in the control of data overall.

‘Tracking Transcience’ (2002-ongoing) is an extensive data work. In 2002, artist Hasan Elahi was arrested by the FBI upon landing. What followed was six months of interrogations and polygraph tests to prove his innocence.[5] Elahi, however, had meticulous documentation of his daily life and thus his own tracking and collection system of his personal data. After being cleared, Elahi still had to notify FBI of his travel plans. ‘Tracking Transcience’ began with emails[6] to the FBI; each email increasing in detail about his life and included flight numbers and even photographs of meals and cutlery served. The website changes daily with photographs, coordinates and a live map of the artist’s location.

“You want to watch me? Fine. But I can watch myself better than you can, and I can get a level of detail that you will never have.”[7] (Elahi 2011)

This work is a vigilante way in which artists and civilians may subvert the data surveillance of the government or agencies. Elahi’s reasoning was to “flood the market”[8] of data with his own constant stream of data. Thus rendering the supply and demand chain of his personal data to be ineffective. This is a way in which artists and civilians may regain the control of their data.

Screenshot at Oct. 28 17-47-24.png
Plate 1: Elahi, Hasan, 2002-ongoing, Hasan Elahi, Tracking Transcience, 2002-ongoing, . Accessed 28 October 2016.

Data art is not limited to just the rise of the Internet. Long before that, Mark Lombardi was collecting and analysing available public records[9] of companies, members of the US government and even overseas governments. Lombardi’s data visualisation work, created with simple pen, graphite pencil and paper are a stark reminder of the dealings of world politics.[10] Lombardi’s work exposes what would be perceived as lucrative and secretive data and subverts this. These works in themselves remain quite cryptic and objective but contain many recognisable names. Thus inversion of data; rather than the government and corporations collecting data on civilians, the data of these large entities is revealed and their connections to one another are shown. Lombardi’s works are a forerunner for the data visualisation works of now, and are another way in which artists and civilians regain the control of data. This shows that data does not only belong to large entities and that the data collection and trade works both ways.

lombardi-05-bigPlate 2: Lombini, Mark, 1999. Mark Lombini, George W Bush, Harken Energy and Jackson Stephens, c 1979-90 (5th Version), 1999, coloured pencil and graphite on pencil, 153.7 x 190.5cm. Image. Accessed 28 October 2016

Taking Lombardi’s concept, Josh On’s ‘They Rule’ is a website which shows the current world corporations, their large webs of influence and their connections.[11] On’s website is the digital reiteration of Lombardi’s graphite and paper works. Looking specifically at the US, this ruling class of companies contains incredibly powerful people who may slip in and out of board positions in powerful corporations and governments.[12] This work is contemporary through its website presentation as such with ‘Tracking Transcience’ and in the fact that it subverts the control of data large corporations believe to have. ‘They Rule’ is objective such as with Lombardi’s work, and aims to map global power structures and their influence. This again, reiterates the control artists and civilians have over the data that is readily available in public records.

Screenshot at Oct. 28 19-00-19.pngPlate 3: On, Josh, 2001. Josh On, They Rule, 2001-ongoing, website. Image, Accessed 28 October 2016



[1] “Frequently Asked Questions | Attorney-General’s Department”. 2016. Ag.Gov.Au. Accessed October 28.

[2] Viégas, Fernanda B., and Martin Wattenberg. “Artistic data visualization: Beyond visual analytics.” In International Conference on Online Communities and Social Computing, pp. 182-191. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2007.

[3] Urist, Jacoba. 2015. “From Paint To Pixels: How Data Became A New Medium For Artists”. The Atlantic.

[4] (Urist 2015)

[5] (Urist 2015)

[6] Elahi, Hasan. 2011. “You Want To Track Me? Here You Go, F.B.I”. The New York Times.

[7] (Elahi 2011)

[8] (Urist 2015)

[9] Lucarelli, Fosco. 2012. “Mark Lombardi’S Narrative Structures And Other Mappings Of Power…”. SOCKS.

[10] (Lucarelli 2012)

[11] “About | Theyrule.Net”. 2016. Theyrule.Net. Accessed October 28.

[12] (“About | Theyrule.Net” 2016)


Author: z5109941

Fine Arts (Honours)

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