Is weaving an ancient digital art?

David Littler, The Doffing Mistress Takes a Stroll, 2016

Alex McLean,, 2001

Antonio Roberts, data.set, 2016

Felicity Ford, Listening to Shetland Wool, 2013

Ellen Harlizius-Klück, Unborn, 2014

Dave Griffiths and Julian Rohrhuber, pixelquipu, 2015

November 11, 2016

We explore radical perspectives on craft and technology in new exhibition ‘Thinking Out Loud’ with curator Hannah Redler

For thousands of years humans have attempted to understand the complexity of the world by breaking it into patterns. While traditional craft and computer coding may appear to be miles apart, they both represent our continued attempt to capture and encode information. Technology is the new material we have created in our time, and a tool that we use to granulate our experience of the world around us.

Looking into the historical relationship between craft and code, the Open Data Institute presents its fifth Data as Culture exhibition: ‘Thinking Out Loud’. Curated by Hannah Redler and live-coding pioneer Alex Mclean, the exhibition is held at the ODI’s Shoreditch office and brings together a diverse range of artists for whom the research is the artwork. From exploring weaving as an ancient digital art, to developing a live-coded algorave, contributing artists offer a radical perspective on the connection between craft and technology within the context of open data.

While traditional craft and computer coding may appear to be miles apart, they both represent our continued attempt to capture and encode information.

“It is a difficult exhibition to talk about,” Hannah Redler explains, as she guides me through the space. “We have deliberately chosen practitioners who are always in a state of flux. The work is the conversation and we’ve grabbed little moments and put it up in an office.” Yet within the context of the ODI, an organisation that is underwriting the next stage of the web, it somehow makes sense. Not that it makes it any easier to talk about.

In a cozy meeting room, Alex Mclean’s commissioned work Looking Screen plays out a live stream of his desktop. Above a set of desks in the main office space, his coded Fork Bomb hangs from the wall; visualizing through pattern a system as it descends into disorder. On a wall at the back of the room patterns for ’hacked’ knitted jumpers are displayed beside glossy aluminium blocks, representing UK datasets on adult internet usage.

But with these complex works, these selected ‘moments’, we see an overall attempt by artists’ to break down the structures and systems that we exist within. “We’re interested in the stuff that it doesn’t say,” says Redler. “By revealing the guts and the innards of a system dying, we are showing that technology is not always going to be something that can be completely relied upon.”

Other works use physical materials to explore these hidden structures. In Listening to Shetland Wool, Felicity Ford presents a visual sound map of the Shetland isles, which can be listened to through a hand-knitted headphone. The sounds of industry, stories of wool workers and calls of birds are heard through the heavy Shetland wind, to tell the story about the roots of the wool. “While it may look different to Alex’s fork bomb, it is really similar,” says Redler. “Rather than dismantling the structure of digital technology, she is unraveling the structure of the wool trade.”

By revealing the guts and the innards of a system dying, we are showing that technology is not always going to be something that can be completely relied upon.

An intricate piece of woven fabric by mathematician, textile artist and philosopher Ellen Harlizius-Klück, explores the mathematical shape of sound. Created in collaboration with Mclean, the textile piece, titled Unborn, was created by feeding data from an electronic music piece through a loom, to reveal sonic structures as visual patterns. The work is also representative of Harlizius-Klück ‘s ongoing research project into the connection between weaving and numerical understanding. "Do we need to reconsider when we think mathematics began?" asks Redler. “Does it begin with Neanderthal women weaving instead of men in the forum many thousands of years later?”

Also tying the ancient past to the technological present is Dave Griffiths and Julian Rohrhuber’s Inca Telefax: Listening to Pre-Columbian administration without understanding a word, a work that attempts to unearth the meaning behind a pre-Columbian form of data collection called ‘quipu’. By creating a score from their structures, the artists are exploring quipu sonically, with the view that it might reveal something new, otherwise invisible to the naked eye.

The title flies in the face of expectations that data is supposed to bring you a truth that cannot be questioned,” says Redler. “We’ve never been given so much information, but if we continue to believe everything that is being pumped at us, we will have a very poor view of the world.” Such thoughts seem chilling in the light of Donald Trump’s shocking presidential win and the worrying evolution of post-truth politics. But by getting under the surface, unraveling structures, sharing thoughts and opening up questions, artists are playing an important role in pulling out meaning beneath the obvious messages. If there is one clear message from ‘Thinking Out Loud’, it is that there is always something to be explored, created and understood from that which is unspoken.


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