the fine arts data visualization + physicalization lab

What do Data, Art, and Agriculture have in Common?

The Fine Arts Data Visualization Lab at the University of Lethbridge in southern Alberta, Canada, explores this intersection. Each year, we work with a dedicated scientist from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in visualizing one of their data sets. We begin by visiting their research facility to get close to the science and ask questions. We take that knowledge back to our lab and let our curiosity drive how we analyze the story the data is trying to tell, and begin to build projects from that. We strive to combine traditional art-making materials and processes with new ones, and have worked with everything from interactive bar charts to weaving, from meticulously hand-drawn graphs to 3D printed data physicalizations, from crocheted data to electro-acoustic sound compositions.

Every few weeks we come together as a team to present and critique the work, and then we begin again. Sometimes the presentations inspire us to collaborate with each other, sometimes we are led to experiment with new techniques, and sometimes we scrap everything and start over. At the end of the term, each student has visualized the data 4 or 5 times, and each variation provides new insight for the scientist.

Led by Leanne Elias and Denton Fredrickson, the lab is asking questions about how art can bring meaning to data. it is our intent to work with data in a more exploratory way, with the goal of having an audience view or interact in ways that help them come to ask questions. Instead of the visualizations become the “one clear way” to understanding, we would like to see artists and designers interpret data in unique ways that invite the viewer to experience the data in ways that might lead to deeper questions and understanding. This innovative approach is less “let us tell you about this information” and more “how can you bring your own meaning and interpretation to this information?”

Just What is Data Physicalization?



2015 in Review: Working with Fall Rye Data

After meeting with such success in exploring how data and art work together on our first project, we asked Dr. Jamie Larsen to join our group. Dr. Larsen’s work with Fall Rye was intriguing for a number of reasons: rye is a relatively uncommon grain to study, he has plenty of data, and it is a crop that the students were able to see locally.

  • Project Launch
    By Leanne Elias

    It’s official! Our VISUALIZING AGRICULTURE project has launched, with an exciting roster of scientists and artists coming together for a chilly weekend in September. Dr. Andre Laroche and Dr. Jamie Larsen generously spent the day explaining their research into Wheat Stripe Rust and Perennial Wheat – artists include Adrien Segal (Los Angeles), Tori Foster (Oakland), Mary-Anne McTrow (Lethbridge), Jackson 2Bears (Lethbridge), Robyn Moody (Calgary). A rotten computer glitch stopped Patricio Davila coming from Toronto, but we will soon fix that. We were also joined by 7 of our Data Studio students, who have already started their first artworks.

  • Summer 2016
    By Leanne Elias

    I’m also thrilled to be announcing plans for a major exhibition of data art! We will be working with the Southern Alberta Art Gallery to develop an exhibition with some truly stellar artists. The SAAG is known for fostering work with contemporary artists who challenge boundaries and we are very pleased that they embraced this idea wholeheartedly. We have recently met with scientists at the Agricultural Research Centre, and while I can’t confirm the data we’ll be working with just yet, I can guarantee it will be aligned with our mandate of working with data that inspires a more positive, sustainable future. Stay tuned for the list of artists that we will be working with – it is such an exciting time in the Lab!

  • Spring 2016
    By Rusty McMurty

    Hey there. My name is Rusty McMurtry and I’m the Lab’s intern this semester. I’ve been doing independent studies with the Lab over the past couple of semesters as a New Media student. I’ve transitioned to intern for my last semester to finish out my degree and boy-oh-boy do I have some cool stuff to tell you all about.
    The whole Lab has embarked on a, “Setup Semester”. We’d gotten lots of new equipment and had started moving in a thousand different directions at once. Leanne and Denton figured it would be a great time slow down and take stock of all the interesting things we’re now able to do. Everyone here has dove into the machines and programs and started making manuals and example pieces. I’ve personally learned how to use and maintain the MakerBot Replicator 2, as well as use the Roland vinyl cutter (which I made a manual for), the Laser Cutter (currently working on the manual and examples), and the other 3D printer – the Ultimaker 2 Extended.
    A few of the students/interns in the Lab are starting on Data Physicalizations and the final products should be interesting with all the new tech they’re using. There’s a general excitement around the idea of sharing ideas and working with different mediums. We have no doubt it will lead to better and better things moving forward. Can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with in the next little while!

    The site should a get a bit of an overhaul over the next little while as we move forward with a light visual redesign, so look for that!

    Talk soon.

  • Data Physicalization Wiki
    By Leanne Elias

    The amazing people at the research lab have started a physical data viz wiki, and it is going to be enormously valuable to us. We have been using their list of physical data viz extensively ever since we started our lab, and that list was what led Denton and I to visit Paris in March to meet the team. Take a look here – and check back often to see who else has been added.