data and society


What new understandings and perspectives can be brought about by making data physical?

• 3. June - 28. June 2019
• Based at MotionLab in Berlin, Germany
• Two or four weeks, full-time
• Up to 15 participants

Artist / Student (Full Time)*



Data is everywhere. From our physical environment to surveillance mechanisms by Facebook and Google, we interact with data increasingly on a daily basis often without knowing it. Large entities such as corporations, governments and high-end investors leverage it for profit and control. The reality is, data also has physical consequences in the real world, and representing it with materials instead of pixels can create a meaningful real-life experience for ourselves and others.

This course will introduce people to data in all forms,  ranging from urban infrastructure to Open Data portals to your online  footprint to scientific observations. Students will engage with data  first as concept, which will include distinguishing raw data from  information, identifying endemic bias and imparting wisdom from data. We  will begin with the fundamentals of 2D data-visualization and how the  human brain processes shapes and colors in relationship to various  categorizations of data.

We will then dive into various mechanisms for  gathering data: researching datasets online, walking in the city and  generating waypoints for maps, collecting data with home-built  scientific instrumentation and tracking your own data with the help of  mobile apps. Students will have a chance to optionally use code to map  out large datasets in Processing, which we can transform for digital  output using laser-cutters and fabrication tools or as an aid for analog  construction using projectors. 

The course will examine ethical issues such as  using public DNA databases to track down criminals, medical tissue  sampling such as the story of Henrietta Lacks and the efficacy of data  consent with examples such as the European Cookies Law. From these  discussions and with practical experiments with hacking and scraping, we  will gain a deeper understanding of how we are being surveilled online  and what we can about it.

Finally, we will learn fabrication techniques to  make this data jump off the screen and into reality. These will range  from laser-cutting to light woodworking to assembling found materials.  Embracing experimental approaches around materiality, the students will  design final projects for a showcase where they each present a physical  data-visualization object, sculpture, installation or experience around a  social issue that resonates with them.

in this course,
you will be
introduced to

  • Fundamentals of 2D data-visualization using symbols to represent data
  • Researching and cleaning publicly-available datasets
  • Using scrapers and code to gather data from websites and servers
  • Accessing your own data from Facebook, Google and other companies
  • Mapping techniques in public space using GPS and online tools
  • DIY science and gathering data from the environment
  • Data-publishing and creating simple web-based maps using Leaflet
  • Coding and data-mapping using Processing
  • Preparing output for laser-cutting and other digital fabrication
  • Soldering and working with electronics
  • Light fabrication techniques using wood, acrylic and improvised materials
  • Coatings, finishes and framing
  • Presentation techniques from hanging on the wall to installations from the ceiling

course outline

Week 1: Introductions, concepts, narratives, play, and critical discourse. Introduction to data.

Week 2: Tools and techniques for working with data sets, clean-up, experimental representation of data.

Week 3: Making data physical, tools and fabrication techniques.

Week 4: Creating and preparing final show pieces for exhibition.

who is this
program for?

This course is designed for people who want think critically about the world of data around them and to build things based on data in an imaginative way. It aims to engage in creative conversations around mapping and public space, the ownership of data, benevolent hacking, data-scraping and manipulating materials. We will begin with explorations around data literacy and end with practical building techniques so that you can construct physical data-visualizations. No previous experience with coding or fabrication is necessary. We expect you to be eager to use tools and work with combining the analog and digital to create physical work that embodies data. People of diverse backgrounds will benefit from this course by learning how to collect and manipulate data digitally and then transforming it into physical installations and objects that can affect others in a distinct way transcends the boundaries of the screen. The techniques that you learn can be applied to both your work and to your creative life. No previous experience necessary.