Julie Freeman, 2017, RAT.Systems. Photo [ ©] Gareth Jones.

Working alongside a captive audience

By Julie Freeman and Hannah Redler Hawes

Each artist-in-residence benefited from exposure to and dialogue with the ODI team and its wider network, asserting that what they learnt was invaluable in shaping their ideas for the proposed works, and their wider practice. Solo exhibitions by Caruana and Thomson & Craighead were shown at the ODI while they were on-site artists-in-residence.

Thomson & Craighead commented that; “it was fascinating for us to re-see our work outside of a museum or gallery context. We were also able to talk to people at ODI about what it was like to live with and re-encounter the work on a daily basis and this has contributed towards our greater understanding of existing artworks we have made over the last five years.”

They went on to explain that through learning more about what the ODI do and what the different teams do, this made them consider their relationship to data, with ideas of what should be open and what data shouldn’t be open.

Doing the ODI residency gave Thomson & Craighead the invaluable opportunity to connect with Phil and John, working with robotics at the University of Southampton, and as a result, they were able to collaborate with learning a huge amount through working with them, being able to develop the prototypes of the masks in Recruitment Gone Wrong:

“Through learning more about what the ODI do and what the different teams do, it made us think about our relationship to data, with ideas of what should be open and what data shouldn’t be open, it made us rethink those ideas, and we were lucky as they connected us with some lovely and generous people in computer science at the University of Southampton, Phil and John, working with robotics — and we were able to collaborate with them and learn a huge amount through working with them, they were incredibly generous. We would never have been able to access this before without the help of the ODI.”

The collaboration resulted in a big technological shift in their work, that would not have otherwise been possible:

“Then in order to automate and roboticise the masks, this was done in collaboration with Phil and John and that was quite a challenging thing to do with the budget we had. So it was a brilliant thing to do and they found an amazing solution to how it works, and from our point we were working with the digital end, finding how to synchronise video and audio to the automation of the masks, so it was really pushing us out of our comfort zone. It was certainly something new and something that we couldn’t have done on our own.”

Thomson & Craighead also experienced an unexpected bonus: “We presented our ideas for Recruitment Gone Wrong to the ODI board and were surprised that their first response was to begin brainstorming and problem-solving with us — something we have not done before and a method we may try and use again in the future.”

For the ODI, having the artists on-site over an extended period gave staff not only time to question and connect more deeply with the works on display but the opportunity to discuss their own work with people outside of the internal knowledge zone; The Guardian, The Snowden Files.

Natasha Caruana found that “the process of exhibiting in an office environment an extension to my core belief that art should be for all […] a way to break out from conventional exhibition spaces and make contact with a different audience.” She also valued the “unexpected bonus” of Thomson & Craighead’s informal conversations and advice on developing the installation element of her practice.

“The residency with ODI was fundamental to shifting my practice, but shifting it within in a supportive environment, I had space and time and resources with people and expertise and also financial resources and also informal mentorship.”

“At the beginning, I was working in an area that was known that I was very comfortable with, by taking images and yet through the process I was self-pushed and driven to try something new. I can’t see how that shift would have happened with me just working in my studio on my own. It was amazing to have that time to make the work and also a framework.”

thickear said; “It was certainly brilliant, they were so helpful and research-wise it was invaluable — it was amazing to talk to everyone there to get a more detailed insight and to ground our ideas of what we wanted to talk about and also being able to stage part of the Pink Sheet Method in the office and just their support for our work. It was a great thing to be involved in and it did help us at the point that we were then, it did really push us forward, and it gave a validity to what we were doing and gave us a backing.”

The Clandestine Purse, 2009, Natasha Caruana. Image courtesy of the artist.

Performing data

The works described are all highly performative, and intimate. Data is treated as human experience: the intimacy of a romantic relationship, job interview or a one-to-one consultation are exposed for what they could become — divorce, lies, data breaches, personal exposure and potential exploitation. Within each work, data forms the conceptual backbone, a reflection of the society we live in. We hope that the ODI has influenced this thinking, that data is infrastructural and infracultural.


All works were commissioned by the ODI as part of the Data as Culture programme. With many thanks to Shiri Shalmy, Future Everything, Lighthouse, and FACT and the artists themselves. Mask automation developed by Dr Philip Basford and Dr Jon Hare, University of Southampton.

Recruitment Gone Wrong, Divorce Index and Curtain of Broken Dreams were supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Artist Biographies

thickear (Geoff Howse, Jack James, Kevin Logan, Tadeo Sendon) are an artists’ collective exploring contemporary themes through a focus on context specific work. Originally working mainly with sound, their practice now features performance work, installation and meditated public encounters. Much of thickear’s recent work has concerned the ethics of data collection and exchange, including the epic dystopian performance/installation Ministry of Measurement, a major feature of the Barbican Centre’s ‘Hack the Barbican’ season in 2013.

Thomson & Craighead Pioneering media artists Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead make work informed by long-term, gently critical, explorations of the structures and social constructs of the internet and the spaces of social media. They work across video, sound, sculpture, installation and online space. Through sensitive appropriation of images, texts, and data from online sources, including YouTube and other social media sharing sites, the artists produce generous, lyrical works that examine the changing socio-political structures of the Information Age. For Thomson & Craighead, the spectre of humanity is always present in the machine, even as a disappearance. They have shown extensively at galleries, film festivals and for site-specific commissions in the UK and internationally, including at BFI, FACT, Dundee Contemporary Arts, bitforms, New York; New Museum, New York; and the Berkeley Art Museum, California.

Natasha Caruana is a photographic artist whose work is characterised by bold and inventive uses of performative strategies, sharply tuned interpersonal skills and scientific processes. She is concerned with narratives of love, betrayal and fantasy, drawing from archives, the Internet and personal narratives. She questions how today’s technology is impacting relationships. Her work creates counter-representations of groups, which sometimes run counter to the group’s collective self-image or to widely shared stereotypes. Caruana’s work has been shown internationally and is held in public and private collections. She has won numerous prizes and has been named as ‘the one to watch’ in the Royal Photographic Society Journal. In 2014 she was named BMW Young Photographer in Residence at the Nicéphore Niépce Museum at the 2014 Les Rencontres d’Arles festival in the south of France.

More info on data types for data as an art material:

Data as Culture

Through articles, conversations and case studies we’ll…

Data as Culture

Through articles, conversations and case studies we’ll explore the cultural weight of data and examine works that use data as an artistic material, offering perspectives on the potential that data offers and how it is shaping society around us.

British Council Creative Economy

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British Council Creative Economy team. We work with artists, entrepreneurs, and creative communities globally to tackle today’s cultural and social challenges.

Data as Culture

Through articles, conversations and case studies we’ll explore the cultural weight of data and examine works that use data as an artistic material, offering perspectives on the potential that data offers and how it is shaping society around us.