by Manu SharmaSep 05, 2021
I remember scrolling through my feed on Instagram recently and reading a meme which said, “Remember when we used to write ‘BRB’ in our chats? We don’t anymore because we live here now”. In this meme, ‘BRB’ refers to the acronym for ‘be right back’ and ‘here’ refers to the internet. As someone who grew up using the internet, a tool we learnt to make use of before I even hit the age of 10, this meme took me by surprise because of how hard it hit on the nose. It is true, we do live on the internet now. We even have ‘bitmoji’ to represent our online avatars. We exist and interact via computers on this virtual home we build on the worldwide web, living a life online, which is no less real than our offline ones. This got me thinking - if the internet is a world of its own, what would it look like? Does that make data the landscape of this dimension? Daniel Canogar presents a new series of installations titled Billow, currently on view at bitforms gallery in New York City. The series of data-driven artworks are made with flexible screens, a characteristic element in Canogar’s artworks. The undulating forms resemble hills and valleys, coming close to creating a data landscape in our offline world. In a conversation with STIR, the artist discusses how he views information as a number of invisible threads which surround us.
“Data surrounds us, and yet we can’t really see it in a way that is tangible, physical, and that allows us to wrap our minds around the expanding field of big data. We need to find ways of better understanding how data has infiltrated every aspect of our lives, so as to better harness it and use it in useful ways rather than be used by it. I believe art can help out in this regard. As an artist, I am not interested in data visualisation but in using data to make art,” says Canogar. The American-Spanish artist elaborates, “Bringing data to the field of art offers a freedom to reflect, explore and understand data in more intuitive ways. I do see big data as having both negative and positive effects on our society. The negative ones: the erosion of privacy, and how all our internet activity is being tracked so as to monetise our digital trail. Positive uses of big data are medical ones. Particularly during the present pandemic data seems to be a key to managing the crisis”.
Canogar’s flexible LED screen aesthetic is unique to his practice, a material you will not find elsewhere too easily because it is something he created himself! He started his creative practice at the age of 14 when he learnt how to develop his own pictures. After that moment, he says, “There was no turning back. When entering adulthood, I realised I was more interested in a more phenomenological experience of photography, that is, light and darkness as physical and sensorial experiences. I soon started projecting photographic images and creating immersive installations. From that point it was a logical step to move into the realm of video projections, and now digital technology”. When Canogar began creating immersive environments using his art, technology started becoming a medium and eventually also a limitation. Determined to work around this road block, in the form of stiff, flat and rectangular screens, the artist hired an engineer to work with him to create something entirely new. They worked on the development of creating flexible screens, which could be used for his creative purposes and eventually found a fabricator in China, with whom he continues to work with. He says, “These flexible screens allow me to engage with the architectural space of the gallery, and invite the viewer to walk around the installations and discover them from different perspectives. It’s been a wonderful media to be able to play with”.
In the Billow series, Canogar combines his signature flexible screens with algorithmically driven data output for the first time ever. Displaying real time information streaming from Google Trends, the variation in colour depicts how popular a trend is currently, with warmer tones denoting ‘hot trends’. Canogar says, “The combination of flexible screens and generative animations has opened up an exciting area to explore in projects ahead. I feel I am exposing the entrails of digital infrastructures, showing the “plumbing” of what otherwise are very intangible and invisible networks”.
The exhibition at bitforms gallery in New York, USA, opened on April 22, 2020, and is on view till August 16, 2020.