EYEO Festival: Some Impressions By the Data Visualization Society

Jason Forrest
Published in
9 min readJun 18, 2019


Final call for the speakers from EYEO festival 2019 photo: Anthony Starks

The EYEO festival “brings together a rich intersection of people doing fascinating things with technology” and dang if didn’t they do an awesome job of it! It’s rare that one gets the chance to meet so many amazing people from such diverse backgrounds, industries, and areas of practice in one place — let alone having that be at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

Here are a few reactions from our DVS members who attended the event:

Matthew Brehmer

After years of hearing about how great Eyeo is from friends and colleagues in the visualization community, I finally made it to Minneapolis for a series of inspiring and unexpected talks, performances, meetups, and parties. Now that it’s over, I’ve been thinking about how it compares to other conferences that I’ve been to; the scope of Eyeo is certainly broader than visualization, and as a result, the speakers and attendees are an amazingly diverse crowd. I didn’t make it to any of the Monday workshops, which appeared to focus on new technologies and practical skills. In contrast, the intent of the main program’s talks were to amaze, inspire, and call us to action; they tended to highlight multiple projects and they often spoke to broader issues facing the community as well as society at large.

Mike Tucker photo: Jason Forrest

While there was plenty to see at Eyeo for those interested specifically in visualization (talks by Nathan Yau, Nadieh Bremer, and Moritz Stefaner), my personal highlights involve topics and practitioners that I was previously unfamiliar with (or only peripherally aware of). One recurring theme dealt with working with self-imposed constraints: Mohit Bhoite’s brass-rod circuit sculptures; Nicole Aptekar’s laser-cut paper sculptures, each comprised of 40 layers and 1–2 colors; and Helena Sarin’s GAN-based art, generated using her own photography and paintings. Another recurring theme pertained to surveillance and privacy: Adam Harvey’s investigation into the questionable downstream uses of facial recognition research and datasets; Lauren McCarthy’s experiments of becoming an intelligent assistant; and Sarah Groff Hennigh-Palermo’s call to undermine rather than oppose the replication of digital surveillance in physical space.

Two of the most memorable talks I attended were not so much talks as they were performances: Daniel Shiffman, in collaboration with the audience, live-coded a ML-supported interactive game using P5, ML5, Teachable Machine, and Runway ML; and Onyx Ashanti demonstrated his wearable computer/synthesizer comprised of a network of 3d-printed sensors. However, perhaps the most memorable talk for me was one of the closing talks: the rapid-fire onslaught of awe-inspiring visuals by Refik Anadol and his team, which culminated in the stunning WDCH Dreams project commissioned by the LA Philharmonic; I look forward to watching his talk again once the talk videos are posted (ideally at half-speed).

The DVS meetup in the lobby. Matthew Brehmer on right photo: Jason Forrest

As there were two tracks of talks, I only saw half of what Eyeo had to offer, and I look forward to seeing videos of talks that I missed in the coming months. Beyond the talks, there was much to do and take in at Eyeo: I met a lot of new people (thanks in part to Jason, Amy, and Mollie who organized a DVS meetup); I sat in on show + tell sessions; I drew sketches and made play-doh charts; I played mini-golf and various arcade games; I got to try out a new augmented reality experience by Mike Tucker of Magic Leap; and I got to take in part of the Walker Art Center’s extensive collection. Overall, it was a great conference, one that I hope to attend again in future years.

Amy Cesal

Eyeo is not a typical tech conference. It combines talks about art, data visualization, and social justice. Because it’s a mix of interests and backgrounds I found myself in sessions I wouldn’t usually seek out like Sasha Costanza-Chock’s Design Justice talk. It raised my awareness to how design reinforces societal inequities. However, the talk that really set the tone of the conference for me was Catherine D’Ignazio’s Feminist Data, Feminist Futures. She discussed inequality issues with data collection and the bias of who can easily access technology spaces. Well worth a watch when the videos are released.

Eyeo has a strong social component with unique events every night of the festival. I usually work from home and don’t interact with humans daily, so it was a lot of social time for me. I ended up meeting people I only knew from the internet and playing multiple kinds of mini golf over the course of the week. I even took my play-doh data viz project on the road and shared the joy of creating visualizations with an imprecise squishy medium with other attendees, which was quite a success!

LEFT: Amy’s play-doh data viz table RIGHT: A slide from Catherine D’Ignazio’s “Feminist Data, Feminist Futures” photo: Amy Cesal

Anthony Starks

Overall impression — as a first timer but long-time admirer of the conference, it and exceeded all my expectations. From the venues (The Walker, Aria, Machine Shop, and Gutherie) to meeting and interacting with an amazing group of creators.

Code+Libraries Summit started with an “unconference” that explored the role of libraries in the digital world. The Summit had an interesting structure — there is no preset agenda — it is built from scratch by the participants — anyone can simply propose a topic, and add it to the schedule. Jer Thorp facilitated the process, and the participants considered the choices like: “Publishing without Capitalism”, “Maker Spaces, dawg”, “Libraries and democracy, how can libraries defend against misinformation”. After choosing a topic, you go to a breakout space and discuss.

Catherine D’Ignazio photo: Jason Forrest

The festival properly began with an opening keynote from Lucianne Walkowicz: “Encountering the Universe”, where blended taking science to people and dance performance. The next day began with Catherine D’Ignazio’s “Feminist Data, Feminist Futures”, which highlights the blind spots that design has shown in the past, ignoring the concerns of women and others. The story of hackathons and other activities to address the needs of new mothers and breastfeeding (“making the breast pump not suck”) was especially relevant for me as I was frantically texting my daughter, a new mother during the presentation

There was a definite space theme at the festival — first from Lucianne Walkowicz, and then from Sara Schnadt, an artist and designer working at JPL. In her talk “How Designing Space Missions is Like Creating Installation Art.” The main theme for space projects was “you only get one chance to get it right”, to “there is no real distinction between artists and engineers”. For the evening’s activities we met at the “Machine Shop” for puzzles, games, drawing, chatting, and cupcakes. Amy C’s Data Viz Play Dough was a hit there, I spent my time doing conditional design drawings games:

Nadieh Bremer: Visualizing Connections photo: Anthony Starks

The InfoViz “star” Nadieh Bremer did not disappoint with “Visualizing Connections” — an exploration of the various ways that connections are shown. Lauren McCarthy (creator of p5.js) explored the nature of “following” and surveillance in “Feeling at Home”. From live-streaming a date with real-time followup — I saw this in “Black Mirror’s” “White Christmas” to offering herself as a human digital assistant — I like to think of it as “Lauren as a Service”.

Onyx Ashanti photo: Anthony Starks

The Final Day had Ron Morrison’s “Residual Black Data” explore themes of Friction, Opacity, and Residue while presenting the “slow violence” of red-lining, the hidden messages of freedom quilts and the beauty of discarded objects. Onyx Ashanti, with “Sonomorphic Fractionalization” mesmerized the crowd with his head-to-toe electronic, sensor-laden eco-skeleton: (“I’m not micro-dosing today”). At the send-off event at the Guthrie Theatre, we received a tour-de-force presentation from Refik Anadol “Space in the Mind of a Machine”, along with Diana Nucera “Mother Cyborg” schooling the audience on combining technology with community organizing and of course performance (who can forget “Mother Goose”)

My overall impression as a first-time attendee but long-time admirer is that Eyeo is unique, and the event this year had strong inclusion and social justice bent, not just showing off the latest whizzy thing,

Mollie Pettit

Mini-golf on the roof of the Walker link

EYEO Festival was unlike any other conference I’ve attended and I now can’t believe it’s taken me so long to go. The conference somehow perfectly blended the intersection between data, design, and art; bringing together speakers who are quite different from one another in terms of focus and background, but who also seem somehow connected to a general flowing theme. I, of course, identified most to the data visualization talks, as that is my professional focus. However, whether or not any given talk fell within this realm, I tended to leave feeling thoughtful and/or inspired, and almost definitely wanting to look up mentioned projects in more detail.

“Fancy nails! No, we didn’t coordinate. Yes, we’re just that fabulous.” Mollie and Nicole Aptekar (right) link

In addition to top-notch talks, I was delighted to find evening activities each night, which I’ve never before found at a conference. From structured activities such as play-doh making, puzzle-solving, and trivia one night to video games, miniature golf, and karaoke the next, an environment was created each evening that encouraged casual socializing and massive amounts of fun.

With all these things combined, paired with the late night school-bus shuttles and many newly-formed connections/friendships, EYEO Festival felt like an inspiring, educational, and fabulously fun adult summer camp. You can definitely expect me to keep coming back.

Jason Forrest

This was also my first EYEO festival and I really had a wonderful time. There’s so much to discuss and absorb, and so many amazing people to meet, and just so much to be curious about. It’s a fantastic way to get out of your own head and maybe into someone else’s for a bit. I think the others have mentioned many, if not all, of the speakers, so I’ll close out the article with my general ideas and some photos.

  1. Meeting people from such different backgrounds ultimately means learning a bit more about their process. Hearing about how influencing policy works from Katie Evans or speaking with Sara Schnadt about being an artist within NASA’s JPL helped me see that every practice is rooted in process.
  2. Choosing between lectures was almost arbitrary as every speaker had something amazing to say. Matt Zumwalt’s lecture on meditation/history of the internet was a lecture I would not have chosen, but one I have thought a great deal about afterward.
  3. There are so many interesting technologies out there, from the GAN libraries that Mario Klingemann spoke of, to engines like Unity or Touchdesigner — one just needs to jump in and experiment!
  4. In our current age of social and political turmoil, many people are having a hard time coping with the illogical disparities in our cultural mindsets. One group wants to embrace change, others want to close-ranks, some want to fight, while others want to just go back underground. I’m not sure what the right answer is, but I think we’ll get through it by talking to each other and trying to figure it out together.
photo group by Jason Forrest



Jason Forrest

Dataviz Designer at McKinsey, Editor-in-chief at Nightingale, Electronic Musician. Contact & more: jasonforrestftw.com