Big bang Data at Somerset House

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‘Big Bang Data’ at Somerset House, London is a timely exhibition that explores how the data explosion of the 21st century has revolutionised our lives for better and for worse. The show features works from a range of international new media artists including Ryoji Ikea, James Bridle and Eva and Franco all of whom confront the impact that the exponential growth of data has had and continues to have globally. 

The exhibition is divided into sections designed to map the trajectory of data from its origins up to the selfies, social media activity and CCTV camera footage that we now produce on a continual basis. ‘Big Bang Data’ makes a brave attempt to decode and direct this sheer mass of information.

The show’s first section ‘The Weight of the Cloud’ introduces visitors to the very physical reality of a commonly misinterpreted concept. ‘The Cloud’ is in fact a network of servers, operated from industrial-scale data centres which are located across the planet and connected by a series of submarine cables. A map of these servers, based on artist Morag Myerscough’s ‘Telegeography map’ is suspended from the ceiling and hangs at eye-level. Viewers face the cloud’s physical presence front on.

As the exhibition continues it is easy to become lost in the weight of information on display. Whilst a solid attempt has been made to present data in digestible chunks, as chilling news stories on data security are juxtaposed with internet-trends, one can’t help but begin to feel lost.

Owen Mundy’s ‘I Know Where Your Cat Lives’ transmits this sense of confusion. It mocks the internet cat trend whilst making a pertinent point about online privacy. Mundy has mapped the location of cats from across the world based on publicly available photographs tagged with the word ‘cat’. If the cat photographers decide to increase their privacy settings then the image of their cat will disappear the map. By bringing these two themes together Mundy highlights the unpredictability of the internet. He presents it as a uniquely heterogeneous space in which unrelated topics begin to overlap.

One of the exhibition’s highlights is ‘The London Situation Room’ a collaboration with ‘Future Cities Catapult’ and ‘Tekja’ it screens realtime data from the world’s most closely watched city with visitors contributing and affecting change to the data displays. Whilst the exhibition raises important questions about the dangers of unthinking internet use it also attempts to highlight some of the advantages with a rather forced section titled ‘Data for the Common Good.’ Although it’s uplifting to think of mass data as a democratic tool of efficacy and transparency, if ‘Big Bang Data’ proves anything it’s that mass CCTV surveillance and instances such as the NSA scandal already outweigh big data’s potential benefits. 

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