Review of 'Big Bang Data'

http://bigbangdata.somersethouse.org.uk/

Being in the computer industry the “Big Bang Data” exhibit immediately appealed to me but I seemed to put off getting tickets until for the very last day…Which, of course, meant it was quite busy. Indeed, it is my impression it has been very busy and well received since it first opened. Taking place in the “Embankment Galleries” on the “ground” (embankment) level floor nearest the river it was spread out over three rooms - Two on the ground and one large, narrow one above.

The exhibit focuses in on the use of “big data” in modern life - Where large amounts of data is now being collected from each of us as we use Internet services which is then used for various reasons - both good and bad. Here all of these aspects are explored along with the artistic side of “data visualization” - Using the data to generate art. In the first room we were presented with some slides of a data centre in Europe - The cold, clinical interior full of high technology betraying little of the data it actually contains and transmits. Next we were asked to scan our face which was then used to track our movements through the exhibit (in an thought provoking display at the very end). Upstairs there were a series of areas starting again with the prosaic then taking us through historical and contemporary use of data in art and by large companies and organizations. There were the expected warnings against data misuse portrayed here with a video display with three short videos including interviews with Edward Snowden and the director of the NSA explaining the recent revelations of wide-spread monitoring of US (and non-US) citizens by the NSA. But there were also the unexpected items such as a series of 15 or so globes featuring various statistics regarding modern life such as mobile phone ownership or immigration information. Another was a moving display about a boat of refugees from Libya that starved at sea despite being continuously monitored by several different multi-national agencies.

It was nice to see a few hands-on displays throughout the exhibit allowing visitors to interact a bit. I particularly liked a section that gave examples of the positive use of big data in various Internet sites (such as one that allows you to see how your local member of parliament is doing).

When returning to the ground floor, just before leaving the exhibit there were two large art installations - One was a hemisphere suspended from the ceiling that I can only assume displayed the stars that you could lay on top of bean bag chairs on the ground to look up and enjoy with seemingly random lines squiggling across the scene (satellites?) - Without any explanation it was hard to tell what it was we were looking at but it was mesmerising. An adjacent room consisted of real-time visualization of data from, I believe, Twitter which was oddly fascinating as well…

An interesting and thought-provoking display into the use of data. I think it will mean that perhaps more people will be aware of the data they generate and how they can be tracked in the modern world. I did like, however, that there was a positive spin on things and that the exhibit tried to give a well-rounded overview of the topic from the physicality of the technology to the artistic side of things as well.

Rating:

Review Date: 2016-03-20



Somerset House

Location: London (England)

Address: Strand, London WC2R 1LA ENGLAND

Public Transport: TUBE Temple

Telephone: +44 (0)20 7845 4600

URL: https://www.somersethouse.org.uk/

Somerset House is located just off the Strand on the Thames embankment between Embankment and Blackfriar's tube stations. It plays host to a number of regular art exhibits and events. The central courtyard in the Christmas season is home to a skating rink but in the summer is used for concerts and film displays. There is a small gift shop on the right when you enter (under the arches) and a restaurant on the portico nearest the river.