Datda Art

How data-driven outcomes are affected by transcendental ecosystems.

“Rock Maze” by Ashley Batz

Our world is a hyper-complex one. How can we hope to understand global trends and the multilayered nature of reality? Is it even possible?

In this effort, we turn to data.

But how do we know what to make of the data? Isn’t it a bit like the famous turtle story?

“Your theory that the sun is the center of the solar system, and the earth is a ball which rotates around it has a very convincing ring to it, Mr. James, but it’s wrong. I’ve got a better theory,” said the little old lady.

“And what is that, madam?” inquired James politely.

“That we live on a crust of earth which is on the back of a giant turtle.”

Not wishing to demolish this absurd little theory by bringing to bear the masses of scientific evidence he had at his command, James decided to gently dissuade his opponent by making her see some of the inadequacies of her position.

“If your theory is correct, madam,” he asked, “what does this turtle stand on?”

“You’re a very clever man, Mr. James, and that’s a very good question,” replied the little old lady, “but I have an answer to it. And it’s this: The first turtle stands on the back of a second, far larger, turtle, who stands directly under him.”

“But what does this second turtle stand on?” persisted James patiently.
To this, the little old lady crowed triumphantly.

“It’s no use, Mr. James — it’s turtles all the way down.”
— J. R. Ross, Constraints on Variables in Syntax, 1967

The problem is this: it’s data all the way down!

To illustrate the point, we introduce: Datda! Datda means data and Dada art.

Dada Art was an art movement in the early twentieth century that rejected logic and embraced irrationality. As such, these artists incorporated random elements into their work.

Above all these artists rejected the cold logic of World War I, which was destroying Europe at the time. Safe within the borders of neutral Switzerland, the Dadaist questioned the worth of a rationality that would lead millions into the slaughterhouse of global war.

Datda art encourages us to play with the data, remix the data, rearrange the data, see what the data could become. Like the Dada artists, we’re skeptical of logic that leads to war and demands eternal profits.

“Urinal Network” by Max Redux

Let’s try an example.

The following dataset was taken from the Pew Research Center. It shows the gaps in income between upper-income and middle-and lower-income households in the United States.

As you can see, there has been a big shift in wealth from the lower and middle classes to the upper class. The data doesn’t lie.

Using tools developed by our tech-wise art team, we want to randomly rearrange the data and see what it might look like instead:

Datda produced some interesting results! While the previous data painted a grim picture — with extreme inequality reducing more and more people to poverty — this new dataset imagines a world with much less disparity between the various economic classes.

Not bad!

One of the most famous of the Dada artists was poet Tristan Tzara. He left instructions for anyone who wanted to make a Dadaist poem.

How to Make a Dadaist Poem
(method by Tristan Tzara)

  1. Take a newspaper.
  2. Take a pair of scissors.
  3. Choose an article as long as you are planning to make your poem.
  4. Cut out the article.
  5. Cut out each of the words that make up the article and put them in a bag.
  6. Shake it gently.
  7. Then take out the scraps one after the other in the order in which they left the bag.
  8. Copy conscientiously.
  9. The poem will be like you.
  10. And here are you a writer, infinitely original and endowed with a sensibility that is charming though beyond the understanding of the vulgar.

Let’s try something similar, but with Tweets! Using code and some data gathered from Twitter’s API, we can generate a Datda poem. Here’s a Datda poem created by combining tweets from Donald Trump and Barack Obama.

(another this from it’s)
Voted has Chag ballot voters.
To for Hanukkah.
“Box” poll cherish around us;
Same each! fake than to roughed!
Votes glimmers fraud non-resident many to blessings stuffing have votes ballots the shows “glitches” voting;
For changing year my matters
This we us of machine what.
Also harvesting sometimes.
But tested lights the word even pay.
The clarified.
Hope report ballot yours result! offer took up
Menorah of watchers all wow fraud.
Election happy.
Really family more the.
Celebrating those may republicans the massive remind all illegally also and others people

Beautiful! Now we, too, are endowed with a sensibility that is beyond the vulgar.




A mass of snow and rock and ice descending rapidly down the mountainside.

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Harold J. Petty

Harold J. Petty

freelance writer, developer, and creator of www.startprism.com

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