School of machines, making & make–believe

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

  • / 3. June - 28. June 2019

  • / Two- or four- weeks, full-time in Berlin, Germany

  • / Up to 15 participants


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.

Course Description

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.


  • Artist / Student (Full Time)*
    Artist / Student (Two-week Data program only)*
    Professional (Two-week Data program only)*

  • Women and persons from LGBTQ+ and other under-represented communities in the tech field highly encouraged to apply!

    *Includes in-class materials, use of space, and professional mentorship
    Note: If you'd like any assistance in finding housing, please let us know in your application. We suggest budgeting around €525 for a month room rental.

In this course, you will learn

- 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
- No previous experience necessary

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.

Making EEG data physical, Lines and EEG is an installation by Vanessa Li and Joty Dhaliwal, mapping readings from an EEG to a projection mapped generative line design.

Gan Hands is an installation by Joty Dhaliwal that used a DCGAN built in Tensorflow to generate new “imagined” replications of human hands. A Deep Convolutional Generative Adversarial Network is a machine learning algorithm that takes in large amounts of data, in this case 11,000 images of hands, in order to learn a hierarchy of representations from the object parts.



  • Scott Kildall /

    Scott Kildall is a new media artist who works with datasets related to natural sciences and how they interact with human civilization, transforming these into sculptures and interactive installations.

    Scott has been working with art + technology + education for over 15 years. In 2017, he worked as an American Arts Incubator Artist, where he led a 1-month workshop in Bangkok to teach data-visualization and sculptural techniques to local Thai educators and students involving water quality in that city. Additionally, he has worked as a New Media Exhibit Developer (2012-13) at The Exploratorium in the Life Sciences Gallery. He has also taught coursework involving data-visualization and digital mapping at the University of San Francisco.

    He has received fellowships, awards and residencies from organizations including the SETI Institute, ZERO1, Santa Fe Art Institute, Impakt Works, Autodesk, Recology San Francisco,, Eyebeam Art + Technology Center, The Kala Art Institute and The Banff Centre for the Arts.

    His work has been exhibited internationally at venues including the New York Hall of Science, Transmediale, the Venice Biennale, the Vancouver Art Gallery and the San Jose Museum of Art. He currently resides in San Francisco.

  • Rose Regina Lawrence/

    Rose Regina has worked with groups and organisations focused on media concerns, labour issues, criminalisation and incarceration, the anti-war movement, FOSS, and human rights. She started focusing more heavily on issues related to digital security in 2012, specifically emphasising the parallels of on- and off-line concerns of activists and other heavily surveilled communities.

    In this program, Regina will give an intro to general holistic security ideas and practices, and discuss how data, and especially what is called open source intelligence (meaning using the stuff about people you can find on the internet) plays into security concerns. She'll also discuss wearables and intimate computing data as truth or nontruth. .

  • Joty Dhaliwal/

    Joty Dhaliwal is an artist by nature, a philosopher by formal education, and a technical designer and fabricator by profession. She grew up on the west coast of Canada in connection with the natural world; from this background, she frequently draws upon natural forms and metaphors as curatorial frameworks.

    Now based in the San Francisco Bay Area, she utilizes various mediums to explore conceptual topics through spatial formats. Her interests range from psychology and machine learning to micro-grids and mesh networks. In the past, she has largely worked with physical materials and design. In the present, with electronics and signals.