Big (Beautiful) Data: The Media Architecture of Refik Anadol



Data is everywhere: we have big data, open data, data sets, data mining, data management, data visualization, data smog, the data deluge, and — if you can believe it — being a data scientist was dubbed the sexiest job of the 21st century by Harvard Business Review. We’re scolded to manage our data properly, we fret about our data trails and yet, in all this data, it’s sometimes hard to find good data. Data shows that data will be increasingly significant in the future. Data equals knowledge equals power. Data dominates.

If all of this sounds dreadful, take heart: the data artist (not celebrated by HBR) rejects the all-too instrumental uses of data, perversely employing it instead in the service of beauty and delight.

Enter Refik Anadol. The bespectacled, black-haired 30-year-old artist has established a bustling studio in Silver Lake dedicated to exploring the creative uses of data in a series of innovative art experiences that are grand. Not only that, the artworks strive to open up a conversation about the city and its complex and dynamic relationship to the people who inhabit it. What can visualizations of our city — its public transport, weather patterns, water usage and so on — tell us about who we are and what we’re doing?

“We have all this data,” Anadol says cheerfully, “but what does it mean?” He answers his own question by musing, “I think a new kind of storytelling can occur.”