Big Bang Data exhibition melds big data with big art (pictures)

This collection of artworks explores the relationship between data and the real world. Here's a sneak peek.


Aloysius Low

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Singapore's ArtScience Museum is playing host to the Big Bang Data exhibition, which is making its first ever stop in Asia. The exhibition, which originated in the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona and Fundacion Telefonica in Spain, will run from 21 May to 16 October.

The exhibition features the science of data through large-scale installations and art projects, and will also showcase Singapore's data-centric approach for its Smart Nation push.

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Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda opens the exhibition with a visually arresting piece on how data can be interpreted as texture and more. It sucks you inside this strange world as the information scrolls by.

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The second thing you see at the exhibition doesn't seem all that impressive, until you realise it's actually an inside and outside look at datacentres around the world. That's where the photos and music you store on the cloud physically are.

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As you step into the room, a large map on the floor draws your eye. It's a map of the world, with a focus on the world's undersea cables. Curator Olga Subiros told CNET that this exhibit not only shows where the power of information lies, but also where it's absent, in places such as Cuba and North Korea, countries that are not connected by any such pipes.

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Places like Singapore are where these undersea cables meet. North Korea, despite being surrounded by the sea, has no cables connected.

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On the walls of the same exhibit were pictures of cool looking data centers, such as the Pionen Bahnof in Stockholm, which used to be a nuclear bunker. With an interior inspired by a 1960s James Bond film, the Pionen features waterfalls and meeting rooms that appear to be suspended in space. The engines of a German submarines complete the set.

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And if you're curious what these undersea cables look like, here's a peek. The actual cables are the thin fiber optic lines in the center, while the outer layer is to protect it from the water pressure once these cables are laid out on the seabed.

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From punch cards to DNA, "The Data Explosion" shows just how far we've come in the field of data storage. As data storage limits increase, the physical object gets smaller. You would need a whopping 11,376 1.44MB floppy discs just to match a tiny 16GB flash drive.

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This is called "1:1 (Every IP)". In 1999, Lisa Jevbratt tried to map every website to a pixel. She eventually realised it was impossible, as her database couldn't keep up with the explosion of websites.

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The idea of using graphics to make information easier to understand is nothing new. What you're seeing here is one of the earliest infographics in the world, created in the 1800s, to tell the story of Napoleon's Russian campaign. Of the 422,000 men who made the march to Moscow, only 10,000 soldiers made it back to France.

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Infographics don't have to be two dimensional. "World-Processor", by Ingo Gunther, maps information onto a physical globe. Here, translations of the word "Earth" are placed at the location of the language spoken, with the size of each word based on the number of people speaking the language.

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What you're seeing here isn't a star field -- instead it's a visual representation of 15 stock exchanges around the world. Each "star" will flare up when a trade is made.

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Datasets can also be fun to play with. This interactive display lets you fiddle around -- watch taxi trips in New York City in 2013, or find out hotspots of where electricity is being used in Singapore throughout the course of the day.

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For "Dear Data", artists Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec collected and measured data relating to their lives for a week and sent them on a postcard across the Atlantic to each other. Each card features a different set of data, such as compliments. They represent that data doesn't have to be digital -- it can also take an analogue form.

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"24 hours in photos" isn't a mountain of junk, it's a mountain of pictures, printed from Flickr by Erik Kessels. There are about a million pictures there, all from a single day in 2011, ranging from couples to babies. Makes you wonder just how private your stuff is online, eh?

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Wrapping up the exhibition is an area where you can add your thoughts on data to the art piece. This portion of the exhibit isn't completely filled yet, as the exhibition only opens tomorrow, 21 May. If you're in Singapore and want to check out some less traditional art, head down to the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands. Tickets cost S$15 for adults (about $11, £7.50 or AU$15).

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