On 20th and 21st May 2016, Autonomous Tech Fetish – a radical technology collective based in London – staged a Data Buffet in Exeter Library as part of the month long Museum of Contemporary Commodities event. This was the culmination of two months research in Exeter and in London. The result was a selection of artworks that reimagined the digital in the context of our day-to-day lives.
From health records to supermarkets, benefit monitoring to data-driven dairies, the processes that data systems enable and require affect and impact on our bodies in countless ways. The three projects we served in the Data Buffet used locally sourced data and materials generated by everyday activities in Exeter cafes and eateries. Each work is an experiment that treats data as something embodied in everyday life and capable of effecting change in the world, even if we cannot always see or hear it. By reclaiming data from unlikely sources and creating new flows and processes with it, we can begin to sense the power of data to change our bodies and environment – creating new forms of economic, social and political value.
Serving your data back to you as tea: Cuppa Data
Our actions and interactions with different technologies, institutions and companies are increasingly captured in data. Nevertheless, most of the time we don’t ‘feel’ when the body is captured, nor when its actions are actively producing data. What happens if our data is given back to us as something we can taste and digest?
Cuppa Data is such an experiment, exploring the tastes of data by blending human and machine feelings using tea. A selection of teas allow us to code ‘how the machine thinks you feel’ and ‘how you think you feel’ into a tea blend, using data captured with our “ultra-precise” galvanic skin response glove. This measures the conductivity of sweaty skin which is believed to give indications of people’s emotions.
We brought with us three unique teas, composed using data from a host of people, including staff and visitors in Exeter Library Cafe, Sid’s Cafe in St Sidwell’s Community Centre and the communities from the Common House and the Field in London.
We also blended new teas, allowing people to respond to intimate, yet amplified personal readings of the newest government data policies through our customised bricolage hearing-aids. The emotional responses generated could then be used to serve a new hot mix of bodily data. Cuppa Data presents to us, in a cup of tea, the caffeination, the sourness, spice or mildness of the data-captured body.
Recombining data to create culinary chaos: Betty Cipher’s Algorecipe Generator
Betty Cipher’s “Step-by-Step” Algorecipe Generator is an experiment in industrial cooking anarchy powered by packaging data from the bin and human bodies. The work is created using disused food packaging and donated human footsteps from Exeter eateries such as Sid’s Cafe, The Glorious, The Plant Cafe and Caramello Gelato. The algorithm is programmed to use up 45,255 footsteps, donated by staff and customers via pedometers, to write a 45,255 step recipe book.
The Algorecipe Generator scavenges information such as ingredients and cooking suggestions from the discarded packaging. It combines them at random to create recipe steps, each time consuming one of the donated human footsteps. As the recipe progresses, ingredients are combined and recombined until only one finished ingredient remains. At this point, the recipe is printed and the generator continues onto the next recipe. Once it runs out of donated footsteps the generator will stop and the recipe book will be complete.
Experiencing statistical data through bodily discomfort: Wearable Cow Aggregates
For cattle and humans alike, wearable data technologies at the forefront of the production of docile and marketable bodies through digital ‘precision feeding systems’ and ‘dieting regimes’. The Wearable Cow Aggregates take a radically opposed approach. Rather than extract bodily information, they use and exaggerate the awkwardness and discomfort of our bodies to give us embodied experience of statistical data, allowing us to reflect on its social and political implications.
A cow’s life is in the dairy industry defined by the amount of milk she produces, which on average is 24 litres a day or 51,840 litres in the 6 years, before she retires and becomes low quality beef. These sculptures allow for parts of a cow’s life to be worn on a human body, the empty milk bottles standing in for the hours of life expended, each litre taking one hour. During the Data Buffet visitors “strapped on” and experienced these sculptures, exploring the meaning of the overtly expressive, technically useless but experientially intriguing wearables.
About Autonomous Tech Fetish: Autonomous Tech Fetish (ATF) is a collective of artists, technical tinkerers, educators and activists that together address how digital data and new media affect our everyday experiences. They use collaboration, co-education, play and artmaking to create novel approaches to the role of new media technologies in society. Check HERE to find out how to join their activities.
Acknowledgements: In addition to the funders and partners of the Museum of Contemporary Commodities, ATF would like to thank Exeter Library Cafe, St Sidwells Community Centre, Caramello Gelato, The Glorious Art House Cafe, The Plant Cafe, Fossbox, The Common House, Woodlands.