Designer [Digital + Experiential]

Unassumingly nestled in the corner of the gallery space of Ivester Contemporary are two walls of luminous squares within rectangles within squares contoured by hues of yellow-pinks, orange-blues, green-lavenders. First glance of the pieces invites reminiscence of Piet Mondrian’s own colorful rectangles, but longer looking reveals a more organic nature– lines that are not wholly stick-straight nor meticulously measured out, but rather slanting as if they are leaning (or pushing against) each other. Color blocks squeeze through the blank line structures in growth-like patterns, reaching and grouping, never uniform in their movement or hues. The fluidity and inconsistent dynamism of these compositions are kiln-fired, hand-cut responses to a simple question posed by artist Laurie Frick, “What Did You Do Today?”. 

Personal data as an art medium can serve as a powerful lens for self reflection. Frick quantifies what we do in our everyday life into color coded morsels, reflecting on the oxymoronic nature of our inconsistent habits and routines. Although this specific exhibition is quite insular and isolated in its data pool– a singular subject– its themes extend out to the rather increasingly data driven environment of our technology intertwined lives. Whether we are conscious of it or not, the seemingly private and nuanced nature of our lives is not abstract or private at all to many technology companies whose profit margins are dependent on their ability to predict what we do, what we like, etc.  

Unlike the involved nature of Frick’s data reflection of the self, a distinct characteristic of this kind of data collection is its ability to go unseen–a psychologically sneaky kind of surveillance. Within this space, consent becomes blurred, a question of conscious decision making overwhelmed by overstimulation of pixels on pixels. We click past terms and conditions without reading to hasten the instant gratification of accessing the next app/software/platform, unwittingly exposing ourselves to a variety of data collection methods. “Informed consent” is a charade, as Leslie K. John points out in the Harvard Business Review– many consumers are unable to really determine what the cost of sharing their data is, if they’re even aware that they are sharing it in the first place. Even when we are presented with a more direct ask in the form website cookie consent pop-ups, often clicking “Yes I agree” is more convenient to the average user than going through every configuration in settings. And when it seems like almost every single website has the same pop up (like it is for many internet users in the EU, per the ePrivacy Directive) it obfuscates the online experience, tiring out vigilance. 

And yes, sometimes  the data collected is just used to feed an internal almighty algorithm who just really wants you to buy those pair of boots you clicked on that one time on that one site. But increasingly more common is the practice of these companies selling user data to other companies, where specific intent of usage is never communicated back to the user.  Just recently, automotive company General Motors came under fire for selling driver data to LexisNexis who then passes it on to insurance companies– brake too hard a few times and some drivers can see their premiums jump up. Additionally, with the exponential growth of the artificial intelligence industry, many companies like Reddit are cutting deals to sell user data to tech giants like Google for training of their large language models.  

These practices are of extraction, not collection, and involve the divorce of the data from the source, the self.  Data is collected in the least obviously conscious way possible, then sold into the intangible market of the ether. The self is quantified, and its quantification and product (data) becomes capital– the means of production wrestled away from the source of capital production (the disempowered self), and into the hands of corporations. There is no ownership, no empowerment. These practices starkly contrast against that of Laurie Frick’s, whose data collection theme centers upon understanding and connecting with the self.  The empowered artist takes on roles of producer, processor, and beneficiary of the data they collect.  

That data–rather than going through a reductive, deforming process– goes through a transformative process. Its beauty is not found in instant gratification, but in the slow act of understanding and recontextualization. It becomes physical, molded by the hands of its source– it becomes more. 

Humans can never be fully quantified into data alone– data is just an extension of the self, of its tendency for both stability and fluctuation, for patterns as well as disruptions. Laurie Frick’s work with self collected data is one of the many infinite ways we can visualize the organic, imperfect, ever transformative and growing aspect of human nature and its unbound potential.  With a changing world, we may not always control access to our data all of the time, but we do have the ability as empowered as producers of that capital to rethink and re-contextualize it to be a true extension of the self.