Not so Transparent

Halls of Mirror, Bruce Quek (Photo:ohsolovely)


A gallery sitter greets you; he is sited at the gallery door beside a desktop computer. He prints a piece of paper with barcode on it and hands it over to you. Later he will explain the reasons for passing you the paper, but for now he then invites you into the Halls of Mirror.

Stepping in, you are see about 15 clocks, all arranged in a random order. Initially non-descript, circular, with white dials, each clock has a singular hand, painted red and on each and individual dial is printed a particular cause of death, atrocity of environmental pollution ranging from death by cancer to carbon monoxide emissions and methane emission levels. Each of these single hands is pre-set to rotate in accordance to the rate of occurrence of each ‘death’. A faster paced hand translates to a more frequent occurrence of this particular death. It creates a warped representation of time and space, each individual clock moving at a different tempo and pace. After making a full revolution, a chime is sounded, signifying a complete revolution and the start of a new one. The varied sounds generates an aural composition of chimes and dings, which are strangely soothing.

After spending roughly ten minutes in this gallery space, I handed the slip of paper with the barcode back to the gallery sitter, who scanned it and printed out a receipt. This was akin to a transaction; purchasing groceries from a supermarket.. The receipt is long, detailing all the statistics from each individual clocks during my ten minutes in the space. 45 deaths by HIV, 13 deaths by suicide, 492 kilos of carbon dioxide emission and the number of female genital mutilations in that period of time.

Quek’s concern (Photo:ohsolovely)

Bruce Quek main concern seems to be highlighting the use and application of information and most importantly publicly available statistics. The way in which it is presented and packaged the installation aggregates this information and ‘humanises’ raw statistics in an attempt to bring it to a intimate personal level. Ironically the information conveyed through the clocks lacks any sense of transparency. After all, the main conceptual framework that drives the installation piece is the integrity of its data. Data is something that is inseparable with context and its use. It is hard to empathize with the work and its statistical output let alone critical information that relates to death and humanity. There are other bothersome questions, like how and why certain statistics were chosen, what methodology was used to mine information and whether the information is fact or fiction. Did the occurrences really happen during my ten minutes and in what context?

The logic behind the choice of certain statistics appears random, death dominates the list, and if the artist’s main concern is declining mortality rates why these statistics in particular? Grouping these statistics with others that speak of the degradation of environment and pollution appears mismatched; perhaps he was looking for the data with the most shock value, or data that deals with our very own mortality and existence.

In the information age and the prevalence of social media, artists are addressing the issue of this kind of context, especially dealing with information shared through new media channels. Data being a main driving framework for the project, where the role and implication of data can be weaved into a narrative dictated by certain conditions laid out by the artists.

I stumbled onto Hit-A-Tweet twitter page not long ago, it was illogical, and nothing made sense. It was a random Internet profile on Twitter. There were re-tweets from what seem varying sources of information. It was like ramblings of some deranged person. My curiosity was piqued, I Googled, and was redirected to an artist webpage. Hit-A-Tweet is a project created by Singaporean based German artist Andreas Schelgel. Schelgel created computational logic that spits out random messages based on certain queried keywords. It was not ramblings of a mad men, it was computational logic, artificial intelligence with inherent conditions built in to only consider certain input and to publish certain outputs. What strikes me about the piece was its approach to data on the Internet. Data can be seen as lost artifacts on the Internet, anonymous and transparent. This can be a very powerful manipulation tool, considering how narratives or scenarios can be weaved from different sources.

Hit-A-Tweet is an online piece that shares similar concerns to Quek’s Halls of Mirror, the notion of identity, context and importantly meaning. The project succeeds on a different level, the inherent medium in which it presents itself and its transparent approach to mining data. Data pinched from Twitter’s API is purely open-source, meaning it is publicly available and can be accessed by anyone and everyone. This dismisses the question of authenticity and allows the viewer to engage with the work without questioning, where does this data come from. Presenting itself on the Internet, data becomes something pure and transparent. The piece also relies heavily on real-time data processing. It queries tweets based on keywords written by Hani Hykal in her 41 word long “I-AM” poem and aggregates its result in a sort of illogical narrative. With such technological orientated approach to art making and using online information, the process itself becomes an inseparable component to understanding the piece. The process of gathering and presentation drives the piece, the “medium becomes the message”.

With that said, the physical execution of Halls of Mirror works well, the whole idea of having audience participation through the barcodes and receipts does somewhat translate to a personal connection. The audience fills this void between “information” and “meaning” in a sense, raw information is always transparent and objective; it is how it is perceived and used. In that perspective, Halls of Mirror can be seen as a physical construction of that void, constructing an ambiguous representation of the intangible using ambiguous data as its main driving point. The name probably suggests that physical manifestation, a hall built with mirrors creating various contradicting and confusing images that skews perception of what is real and what isn’t. In that sense, it shows how information can be devoid of meaning and relevance albeit in a very abstract elaborate hoax that questions the integrity and transparency of the piece.