Last Friday (26 February 2016) I visited the Big Bang Data exhibition at Somerset House in London. The exhibition explores the implications of the huge explosion in the amount of data we are now generating, sharing and storing about our world and our behaviour in it. It looks at the positive uses that this data can be put to and the dangers it represents from the perspective of artists and designers.
I thoroughly recommend the exhibition to anyone interested in these issues. It felt comprehensive; dealing with everything from Edward Snowden to selfies; through beautiful and challenging data visualisations.
Some of the particular highlights for me were: the way that early on in the exhibition it attempted to make “the cloud” physical by showing the cables, storage devices, cameras and buildings that make up the network the Internet runs off; some beautiful hand drawn data visualisations; and the Annual Reports created by Nicholas Felton which present all sorts of personal data in a really attractive way.
Although my favourite element, in the section which looked at how data visualisation can be used to promote social and political change, was the collection of some of the most famous charts and diagrams in history. This included John Snow‘s map of cholera cases from the 1854 epidemic in London, the diagram of the slave ship “The Brookes” that was used by the abolitionist movement, and Florence Nightingale’s representation of the deaths of soldiers in the Crimean War that I have written about before.
Finally, I will quote these telling words from one of the exhibit labels, the label for the “Transparency Grenade”, which I thought were powerful and accurate:
“Our only tool against the lack of corporate and governmental transparency is the tedious procedure of policy reform.”
The exhibition continues until 20th March 2016.