Crowds and Clouds: Data, Sheep, and Collaboration in the Works of Aaron Koblin
Aaron Koblin, Abramowitz Artist in Residence, MIT
Description: Where others see just data points and fodder for bar graphs, Aaron Koblin visualizes dynamic systems where information assumes forms both abstract and familiar. In this talk, Koblin shares recent projects that meld statistical science and art to convey a really big picture, while often inviting the viewer to partake in a more personal experience.
Koblin explores those "interesting traces" left after humans interact with each other and with computers -- what he calls "data trails." One work, Flight Patterns, depicts the flow of air traffic over North America in a 24"hour period. The east and west coasts light up in sequence, and lines shoot out of great cities in swarms at busy times of day, like brain scans showing bursts of activity among neural centers.
Koblin is not simply fascinated by a bird's"eye view of human networks. In the Sheep Market, he seeks to "juxtapose the humanity of an individual process with a gigantic, alienated system." With the help of Amazon's Mechanical Turk, software that allows online users to contribute a tiny part of a large project for very little compensation, Koblin collected thousands of drawings of "a sheep facing left." The result is a black and white mosaic of 10,000 Lilliputian animals, each one of which when selected emerges as an individual drawing. (Participants were paid two cents a head). Similarly, in Ten Thousand Cents, online participants drew a tiny piece of a $100 bill (for a penny). The collage, "the largest distributed forgery project on the planet," looks remarkably like the real thing when viewed from afar, but says Koblin, "if you drill in, you can see smiley faces, stippling, and sketching" -- a wild variety of artistic styles. He has tested the crowd"sourcing concept with audio as well, creating a version of "Daisy Bell" for 2,000 sampled voices, which "sounds like a pack of gremlins," or HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey on steroids.
Koblin's work maps comfortably onto the music video world. His tribute to Johnny Cash features a multitude of drawings by fans, and he collaborated on a "music video without video" for Radiohead that employed laser scanners and light patterns. Koblin wants to marshal data, as well as the collective intelligence of the Internet, to create a meaningful experience on a human scale. "I nerd out on a lot of this technology stuff," Koblin admits, but he also suggests there is no point to art without "emotional resonance."
About the Speaker(s): Aaron Koblin is an artist specializing in data visualization. His work takes social and infrastructural data and uses it to depict cultural trends and emergent patterns. Koblin's work has been shown at international festivals including Ars Electronica, SIGGRAPH, OFFF, the Japan Media Arts Festival, and TED. He received the National Science foundation's first place award for science visualization and his art is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.
Koblin received his M.F.A. from the Department of Design|Media Arts at UCLA and his B.A. in Electronic Art at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Utilizing a background in the computer game industry, he led a course in game design for the web at UCLA and has been working with data driven projects as a designer, artist and researcher.
Host(s): Office of the Provost, Office of the Arts
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