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Top ten deserving data visionaries

The digital creatives pushing the physical and virtual boundaries between real and unreal

Ecstatically manipulating the new signals and sensors that chronicle everything about our lives, data art pioneers are developing a visual lingo that makes data more expressive and relevant than ever.

Taking the intersection of art, technology, and commericalism one step further, last week saw Doug Aitken take off from New York City on a nine-car train chock-full of musicians and artists like Patti Smith and Peter Coffin. Trekking cross-country, they plan on staging live multimedia events at each station, while a production team captures the whole experience online.

In the spirit of Aitken's Internet-fuelled vision, here are our ten data visionaries who we think also should've been invited along for the ride.


The Youtube self-portraits (2007-13) of this 27-year-old internet artist are meticulously-edited, hynotic videos that start out normal, then morph into glitchy, pixellated mutations. Instead of being a simple consumer of YouTube, Cortright’s video animations both interrupt the experience of watching and question the entire physical process of sitting in front of a monitor. 


This American photographer is best-known best for his A New American Picture (2010), a collection of blurred portraits of the poor and disenfranchised, culled from 10,000 random images in Google Street View. Instead of revealing personal stories, Google’s blurring-out of the faces and the lo-fi nature of the images reduce the individuals to uncomfortable emblems of race and class.


Combining spectacular, computer-generated image projections, real-time content feeds, and digital sound sculptures, leading Japanese electronic composer Ikeda is primarily concerned with sound in a variety of "raw" state. He has a penchant for using frequencies at the range edges of human hearing. His The Transfinite (data.tron) is a computer tantrum-filled 11-minute video installation which starts with data recorded on broken computers, transitioning into DNA sequencing and, ultimately, a variety of mathematical algorithms. The piece is part of Ikeda's larger “datamatics” art project that “explores the potential to perceive the invisible multisubstance of data that permeates our world.”


Dewey-Hagborg is an information artist whose realistic portrait masks are derived from DNA collected from the cigarette butts and chewing gum that she finds on the street. Using software and facial-recognition programs, she reconstructs her subjects’ various multi-racial faces. The resemblances are approximate. “Accuracy is not the point,” Dewey-Hagborg insists. “It’s not a scientific study... It’s a provocation meant to make you think about privacy.”


Internationally feted for his innovative use of data visualization and crowdsourcing, Google’s young Creative Director of Data Arts designed an online tool that let anyone draw a video frame for the The Johnny Cash Project's (2012) “Ain’t No Grave” song—then watch the resulting integrated animation. But his real genius as a digital artist emerged during his music video project with Arcade Fire, which allowed online viewers to incorporate images of their home neighborhood into the experience by using Google Street View.


Dubois uses pervasive data the way pop artists like Andy Warhol obsessively manipulated the mass consumer imagery of their era into fine art. Presenting a fresh, often jarring context, this conceptual media artist asks how data can be emotionally impactful at a time when we are surrounded by so much of it. His Hindsight is Always 20/20 (2008) uses the familiar context of a  medical eye chart to present something unexpected: the ability to see all-at-once the often hysterical rhetoric and priorities of every American Presidency. 



Stanza’s interactive and visually appealing artwork incorporates CCTV, online networks, touch screens, and environmental sensors. Inspired by the idea of the urban fabric as a giant multi-user data sphere, his Biocities (2003) maps out the movement of each host city on a 3D globe display system. Accompanied by emergent sounds and shapes, the patterns we make, the forces we weave, are all networked into retrievable data structures that disclose new ways of seeing the world.


A colour blind installation artist known for his large-scale public engagement artworks, Jerram’s recently unveiled Maya is a pixelated sculpture that from a distance, looks like a schoolgirl waiting patiently on the platform of a the train station. As you move closer, she fragments into 3D pixels. Visit the permanent artwork at Bristol Temple Meads.


Exploring the relationship between sadism and game design, transgender video game artist Anthropy has developed a number of freeware games including Mighty Jill Off and Lesbian Spider Queens of Mars. As a direct challenge to the expectations of what the developer should create, Anthropy’s masterpiece dys4ia (20l2) is an autobiographical narrative that puts the player inside several mini-games, to evoke aspects of how it feels to be transgendered. 


As founder of the Anti-Advertising Agency—an artist-run initiative which critiques advertising through artistic interventions in public spaces—Lambert was recently in the news for helping to organize a hoax edition of 1.2 million copies of the The New York Times that was distributed for free on the streets of New York City. The paper was post-dated for July 4, 2009, several months into President Obama's term, taking place in a world where the Iraq war was over, Bush and Cheney tried for war crimes, and Congress had passed a maximum wage cap.