Santa Fe Institute

Working group explores the science and art of data representation

March 11, 2016 11:02 a.m.

“It’s not your standard SFI science meeting,” says Jennifer Dunne, SFI’s VP for Science, who is co-organizing this week's four-day working group, Ecological Data Dramatization for Art and Science, with David Stout, Professor of Composition Studies and Coordinator for the Initiative for Advanced Research in Technology and the Arts (iARTA) at the University of North Texas.

Stout and four other new media artists, composers, and artist-programmers will join ecologists Dunne and SFI Omidyar Fellow Andrew Berdahl for an SFI-style exploration of the intersection of art, science, and technology.

Dunne says the group will investigate opportunities for visualizing and “sonifying” simple to complex ecological data and dynamical algorithms for a variety of purposes, including generating new art forms and creating new ways to visualize empirical and model data streams that are helpful in a scientific context.

Part of the meeting is meant to be pragmatic, focusing on exploring cutting-edge approaches and technologies for both artistic and scientific goals. But much of the meeting will entail freewheeling conversation about what art, science, and technology bring to the table and how they are similar and different.

On the meeting’s second day, participants will take a field trip to explore the new Digital Dome at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. The Digital Dome is an immersive video projection environment used for audiovisual storytelling.

The working group’s members will see what the Digital Dome has to offer by way of aesthetics and creative information technology, particularly how advanced visualization and audio display technologies can foster the formulation of new ways of engaging with ecological concepts, data, and dynamics.

Dunne foresees interesting issues arising around different scales of representation. In the ecological sense, this could mean working with data on individual animals or plants that allow insight into collective behavior of populations (migration dynamics of a herd of caribou, for example, one of the species Berdahl is studying), or how populations of different kinds of organisms interact, which gets into the complex food web structures and dynamics Dunne studies.

The artists will have their own thoughts about what makes a particular type or level of representation interesting.

“Overall, there’s a very creative, playful character to what we’ll be talking about,” Dunne says. “That’s something at the heart of both art and science: creativity and the creative process.”

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