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Making Data Art and Collaborating with a Writer

Vishal Kumar
|
Art
|
Dec 31, 2019

I first met Mansi earlier this year when I gave a talk at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London, where I studied my masters. I spoke on a panel in front of a fresh group of students about careers in the art world. I was effectively an outsider when I first approached the art world. I didn’t study art history, I didn’t have any family connections, I hadn’t even dated anyone in the art world! From a bachelors degree in applied Economics to wanting to work in Private Banking, now I work as a Data Analyst at Sotheby’s auction house.

At the end of the talk, a handful of students seemed to have empathised with my chosen career path and asked me further questions. One of them was Mansi. She was a Law graduate with an interest in creative writing. I told her that “as an outsider” in order to break into art world she would need to create an online presence and regularly promote authentic ideas through open platforms such as LinkedIn, Medium and Instagram. And, within a week, she did it! I saw a blog post she wrote on her website via LinkedIn and I was impressed. Everyone’s a critic, but only some do it well was the post I read, and I loved it!

At the same time, I was first beginning to play around with computer coding and data as a medium for creating works of art. I was well aware that data is now increasingly abundant, ubiquitous and complex. As such, the amount of insights drawn from this data is increasing and the demand to understand them is exploding. Visionaries with an eye for design are paving the path for a new method of visual and interactive analysis.

I wanted to visualise complex ideas using code and data, yet, I realised that I needed the help of other creatives to explore, illustrate and explain my ideas further. Writers throughout history have helped communicate the most complex ideas of our time, and creative writing will play an important role in allowing us to interpret and contextualise the abstract nature of data. So, I reached out to Mansi, and between March and May this year we combined our creative energies and collaborated on a project.

Our collaboration

Our collaboration aimed to honour the importance of visual language as a tool for understanding the world around us. Complex ideas and concepts can be hard to understand and interpret, however, we hope to simplify this through data art and creative writing. We decided to take a thematic approach looking at core concepts of visual design, such as colour, proportion, texture and repetition, and we made it our mission to justify the importance and relevance of visual language. Our first topic was Symmetry.

As data artist and writer, we create work that sits comfortably between a print publication, a work on paper and fine art. It is important to realise that you can consume one half without the other, but consuming them together creates access to new points of view. We believe that our approach allows our audience to gain a deeper understanding of the world through visual language. As you scroll down, you will see my work of data art and Mansi’s creative piece on Symmetry.

Collaborations are without a doubt the most challenging, innovative and rewarding experiences. Urbanised and connected societies facilitate this union effortlessly; it is in such a city, London, that both of us first met. Collaborators share a joint sense of responsibility and pride towards their final endeavour. And, in her recent 2017 publication, Co-Art: Artists on Creative Collaborations, Ellen Mara de Wachter captured the rewards and pitfalls of co-art. Working with Mansi has been an absolute pleasure!

Data art

First of all, what is data art? Data art is the process of creating works of art using computer coding, data and design — also known as Generative art. My works can be digital or physical.; static or dynamic, and interactive. Typically, I write an algorithm that is then run through a software to generate the work of art. You can see a couple of static versions here and here on Instagram.

The work below is one of the final pieces I created for my collaboration on Symmetry with Mansi. The open-source sketchbook, Processing, is used to draw the final sketch. The algorithm uses the parametric equations of 12 circles to draw and connect their X and Y coordinates. Randomisation is added so that the interaction between the coordinates is never the same. The number of circles can be changed to alter the shape and form of the final sketch. Each sketch is always symmetrical and unique.

vishalkumar.london ©

One of my main missions in creating data art is to communicate to my audience that computer programming can be creative, flexible and playful. There is certainly a preconception that coding (or the like — software development and IT, for example) is a nerdy and boring practice, which serves a functional or operational purpose. I have demonstrated that this is not true. I want to shift people’s focus from the boring to the more creative, playful and malleable aspects of the code.

You don’t need to know coding in order to understand data art. I don’t know how to play the violin or the piano but when I listen to classical music or contemporary jazz I still understand the art: I get the rhythm, I feel the beat, I sense the emotion. It’s the role of the artist to use the instrument in such a way so that the audience can understand the work of art.

Symmetry

is the quality of an object, image or concept to remain unaltered when put
through a transformation,
in geometric reflections, rotations and centers where your gaze can find a
place of solace,
of connectives in logical theory,
in equations in physics that measure equilibrium,
around chemical bonds between atoms and molecules, like the carbon
covalent structure of a diamond-lattice,
in the disconcertion we feel when one half of a leaf is only very
approximately like the other half,
in the constantly challenged parity of the left brain with the right,
in cold stone memorials,
in churches, temples, mosques, shrines and tombs,
in wrongs versus rights,
in architectural theory Da Vinci borrowed from Vitruvius,
in the timeline of a musical composition,
in the tessellated tiles of vernacular buildings,
and in the musings of aestheticians like Polyclitus.
and yet, Ernst Gombrich said that symmetry and asymmetry alike are just
‘a struggle between two opponents of equal power, the formless chaos,
which we impose our ideas, and the all too formed monotony, which we
brighten up by new accents.’

by Mansi Singh

Mansi wrote the text above as her final piece for our collaboration. Her text works well with my data art because she explores a wide range of instances where symmetry is present, helping the reader to understand the topic. Below is an image of the dinner we held at Chalton Gallery in July to launch our collaboration.

Our launch dinner at Chalton Gallery with my work being projected on the ceiling

Next steps

What’s next for us? Mansi and I have three more editions in the pipeline for our collaboration, which we will spread across 2018. Next we will explore Monochrome.

However, I am also working with and would like to work with other creatives such as poets, musicians and fine-artists. I want to help communicate complex ideas through art, preferably in collaboration with other people from different fields, because I want to provide the audience with more than one lens with which to view the world.

Fundamentally, I think it is the role of creatives to clarify, challenge and critique the way in which societies live because too many of us risk taking the fine details and curiosities of life for granted.

See how my thoughts, data art and collaborations develop by following me on Instagram.

Thank you for reading!

Vishal

Before you leave…

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Click here to learn more about Vishal

Vishal Kumar
Cultural data scientist at The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at UCL researching the impact of arts & culture in cities

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