Data Natures and Radioactive Ecologies

In May 2016 I worked with three other members of the MECO network to convene a panel for ISEA in Hong Kong.

Data natures: the politics and aesthetics of prediction through variability

This panel approaches the conference theme of revolution through exploring transgression in code and nature. Specifically, the papers converge on the question of data natures by examining invisible systems of prediction: invisibility of communication in internet of things, invisibility of radiation, invisibility of audit, invisibility of waste, and the way citizen climate science makes unseen things visible. The papers propose a mode of address that treats both data and nature as unpredictable and variable aesthetic forces. Through divergent methods and approaches the panel turns to the instability and contradictions inherent in the convergence of the two terms. Individually, the papers propose different methods of collecting, interpreting, and mapping data as they each work with the variability and instability of data natures. In examining the ways data is used to predict futures through variables, this panel uses a diverse range of case studies to navigate with absence and think nature differently. The panel shows how critical aesthetic frameworks can challenge both the instrumentality of data, and the dominant narratives posed by institutionalised data interpretation.

We were particularly interested in

  • What is the nature of data?
  • What is the nature of the methods used to interpret data?
  • How is data instrumentalised and when does the interpretation of data becomes performative?
  • What kind of politics result from this instrumentality?
  • Can data lie?
  • What other frameworks can be used when interpreting or mediating data?
  • What kind of results do these investigations present?
  • How does instability contribute to knowledge?
  • How does data transgress?
  • How do we navigate with absence, constant and sudden change?


Ken and Julia Yonitani Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nuclear Nations 2013.

My own paper used artists to think about the ways that data can be naturalised into metaphor. I looked at the recent work of Ken and Julia Yonitani. I’m now working this into a larger piece looking at how artists approach data in their understandings of catastrophe.

ABSTRACT: Radioactive Ecologies

An understanding of the aesthetic forces of nature is the stepping off point for Japanese-Australian artists Ken and Julia Yonitani. Using uranium glass to construct Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nuclear Nations (2013) the Yonitanis use a granular scale to map the correlations between potential and actual disaster. Under UV lights thirty one chandeliers represent the thirty one nuclear nations of the world; the size of each corresponding to the number of operating nuclear plants in that nation. Natural disasters are never isolated events, they form equivalences that create social, cultural and technological catastrophes. As disaster mutates, the path from human nuclear energies to inhuman equivalence starts to glow amidst the flows of capital. This paper constructs a molecular tracery that journeys from artist responses to the ongoing Fukushima disaster towards the realities of climate extinction. What transforms in the retelling is the data of nature, and as countries begin to divest we enter a new data politics of nature.