Data-Driven Art

In my job at Commerce, much of my focus has been on harnessing our open public data to drive innovation, job creation, the economy and new solutions for the public good.

But data-driven technologies are also fueling the right-brain, creative side of life.

Irish artist Kevin Abosch (left) and Counselor Justin Antonipillai, Economics & Statistics Administration

Tech-inspired art is not new — art and science have always fed each other. Art historians suggest Michelangelo used a “pointing machine” to carve an old block of marble quarried from Tuscany into the statue David. The 17th century French artist Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, a Romantic painter, printer, and pioneer of the diorama, applied science to father photography that led to the daguerreotype portraits we know of President Lincoln and Civil War photojournalism. Contemporary artist Chuck Close shot from a large-format camera for his photo-realistic paintings.

At the Web Summit in Lisbon last month, I got the chance to talk with Kevin Abosch, the Irish artist best known for his intimate photographic portraits that transform his subjects (celebrities, everyday people and common objects) into timeless studies. We discussed technology, data and… art.

Potato #345 by Kevin Abosch

Kevin is a pioneer in digital/data-driven art. With a background in biological science and having founded KwikDesk, a platform for discreet communication and securing data, he blends the intellectual with the emotional quite naturally. “The intersection of art and science often yields elucidating surprises,” Kevin has said.

If you don’t know Kevin’s work — Google “Abosch” and “potato.” Now, Kevin has turned his focus to Commerce data as a basis for art, and you can see it here.

This is exactly the kind of inspiration we all need to move toward more “outside the box” uses of our Commerce data.

I’ll let Kevin talk about his own work. (For more on data-driven art, I recommend

Kevin Abosch:

I’m interested as an artist in finding answers to ontological questions pertaining to who we are as individuals as well as within the context of an entire citizenry. The relationship to our environment and our actions as consumers, speak to certain aspects of our being. This too, factors into my work.

The data made available to me by the Department of Commerce is staggering in its breadth. With billions upon billions of data points around industry, weather, trade, telecommunications, the U.S. Census and much more, there is the potential to elucidate the emotional state of a region or the entire nation.

I’m not interested in practical graphs that make the data more relatable intellectually — I’m interested in the emotional values that surface upon applying algorithms I’ve created to multiple synchronised datasets. I believe there are invaluable truths to be unlocked from this type of data that have never been revealed. The visual and aural manifestations of what essentially are translations of the data are perhaps the only way as humans we can actually relate deeply with it.

Thanks for reading.

Kevin and Justin