How did Living Data come to be?

Living Data arose after Jacqueline Gothe invited me to work at UTS as a tutor in the subject Visualizing Research and I introduced her students to scientists at the Climate Change Cluster (C3).  Around about this time I met Gail Kenning at an exhibition of work by her and our mutual friend Sue Pedley. Gail’s work interested me because, like me, she makes 2D line animations to visualise data. And, like me, she gives physical form to the patterns that emerge in the animations. Hers are intricate textile patterns with tactile appeal. But unlike me, she uses an open source program called Processing to generate the lines through coding. I’m a fan of open source programs and intrigued by animations generated by coding.

After Gail expressed an interest in my work with climate change data, I invited her to listen in on some meetings between the UTS scientists and students of Design. Martina Doblin was the scientist who shortly afterwards sent us information about the Toyota Foundation grant. Martina proposed that I lead a research program to spawn more climate change visualisation. With input from Martina and Gail I wrote and submitted a proposal to develop the project Living Data: How animation can bring scientific data to life. The title was suggested by my PhD supervisor, Simon Pockley.

Project Outline May 2011

The need to communicate accurate and accessible information about the integral connections between human actions and the global ecosystem is urgent. As artists and scientists we propose a two-year program of research into how art and science methods can be used to make digital animations that present scientific data in ways that can expand awareness of the place of humans within the natural systems. A visual language of archetypal forms used in art and science to describe feelings of connection and forces of change in the natural world will be combined. Animations that appeal to the senses and intellect will give new meanings to climate change data by connecting them to human experience. Animations will be made accessible from a free on-line archive and distributed widely. Our research will model a new pedagogical framework for teaching and learning that reflects our view of the world as a dynamic integrated whole.

The Toyota Foundation grant application was unsuccessful. However, as Martina subsequently observed:

Three people, three backgrounds, three perspectives – this project has created synergy around communicating impacts of climate on humans and the natural world. We met in April 2011 and wrote a proposal to start “Living Data”. Like an organism, the idea has grown and metamorphosed, capturing people’s attention, understanding, humour and creativity.

The core of Living Data is like the trunk of a tree. It grows strong through the energy that comes from symbiotic (mutually beneficial) connections. The Living Data website reflects our evolution.

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