Seoul

View of “Data Curation,” 2013.

View of “Data Curation,” 2013.

“Data Curation”

Seoul National University Museum of Art

View of “Data Curation,” 2013.

Back when Nam June Paik devised the video synthesizer—which allowed him to cut, paste, and mix video images—he declared, “As collage techniques replaced oil paint, the cathode ray tube will replace the canvas.” “Data Curation” represented the twenty-first-century update of Paik’s prophecy. Today, coding is replacing collage, and LED displays have already replaced the cathode-ray tube. The exhibition, curated by Jeungmin Noe, featured nineteen artists and art groups, mostly from South Korea and the US, working in diverse disciplines, including architecture, industrial design, fashion, media, and installation art. The common matrix was that their raw material is data, their artistic labor not physical but digital.

The gallery’s ceiling was illuminated by a looping nest of glowing vines called Mood Map, 2013, an installation of fiber-optic LED cables interwoven through an angular plate of white plastic. Mood Map was created by E/B Office, a New York–based design collaboration between architect Yong Ju Lee and environmental designer Brian Brush. Their design is a complex attempt to use digital technologies to visualize emotion. First, they defined six categories of mood; then they assigned each a color: red for joy/pride, blue for love, white for fear/shame, sky blue for anger, green for pity, and yellow for sadness/frustration. The lights are controlled by a program that uses Twitter API (application programming interface) to search millions of featured South Korean tweets and identify words associated with those tempers. Once the moods are detected, the respective colors are emitted in real time, in an intensity corresponding to their frequency. Thus, the feelings of 7.5 million South Korean Twitter users are visually manifested through the constantly fluctuating colors. Mood Map is an emotional landscape that emerges from our fundamental desire to connect with one another.

Suzung Kim presented NS_13_01_31, 2013, a digital print that looks like an abstract drawing of fine lines. Trained as a graphic designer, Kim began drawing with technical pens and drafting rulers before progressing to graphic software such as Adobe Illustrator and PostScript. NS_13_01_31 continues this technological progression; it was created with his most recent tool, the programming language called Processing, an open-source software. Created by media artists Casey Reas and Ben Fry, Processing allowed Kim to repeatedly draw horizontal lines, but he varied the lines by applying the Perlin noise function, a mathematical simulation of the randomness inherent in nature. Thus, the intervals, overlaps, textures, and shades of the lines are endlessly and arbitrarily regenerated. In classical Western art, line drawing, or dessin, is a technique for precisely imitating nature. But in Eastern traditions, lines, either painterly or calligraphic, are more frequently associated with inner expression. By combining random complexity with an absolute mathematical system, and thereby creating expressive lines with mechanical tools, Kim is attempting a digital convergence of the two traditions. The ultimate aim of the artist remains quite traditional: aesthetic pleasure.

Young Gull Kwon, the director of the museum and also a renowned environmental designer, calls for recognizing data not as a “set of quantitative information,” but as a “meaningful set of information.” Certainly, the quantity of data is growing faster than ever. According to an estimate by IBM, for example, “90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone,” and the company further claims that this data is expanding across four dimensions: “volume, velocity, variety, and veracity.” The artists of the show add a fifth v to the domain of data, which is value, perhaps art’s most important contribution to the realm of technology.

Jung-Ah Woo