“We Need Us”: Julie Freeman shows new work at the Tate Modern Turbine Hall

A still taken from We Need Us, Julie Freeman's work in progress, being previewed at the Tate Modern Turbine Hall from 14 to 15 June.

A still taken from We Need Us, Julie Freeman’s work in progress, being previewed at the Tate Modern Turbine Hall from 14 to 15 June.

This weekend, data artist Julie Freeman will be showing work in progress “We Need Us” on a 10-meter screen at the famed Tate Modern Turbine Hall. (For a preview, see video below.) The big-screen, two-day preview of data art at the Tate is part of a celebration launch of The Space – a new website for digital art funded by the BBC and Arts Council England. We asked Freeman to tell us about her work, and why The Space is such an exciting new development for data art.

Tell us about your work that’s being previewed this weekend at the Tate Modern.

We Need Us is an animation that explores data as an art material, as an amorphous whole rather than individual values. It works with live user data generated by the Zooniverse citizen science website (fellow Fellow Rob Simpson’s project). The work draws metadata from the activities of Zooniverse’s million+ participants to create a dynamic environment of sounds and animated forms.

The idea is to remind people of the humanity in technology – that we need “us” as much as we need it. The piece requires data from online activities of people to come alive. George Dyson talks of digital organisms, and it seems that data could be viewed as such: creatures that have a function and perform actions as part of our world. I’m looking to expose the idea that as a whole, data have unique characteristics such as growth, momentum and fragility, by creating a framework that comes to life with real-time data.

We Need Us was co-commissioned by Open Data Institute as part of their Data as Culture programme, and The Space.

What is the Space?

The Space is a new website for artists and audiences to create and explore brilliant new data art – to be shared with the Whole Wide World. The preview at the the Turbine Hall celebrates its launch. It commissions new talent and great artists from all art forms, creative industries, technical and digital backgrounds, through regular open calls and partnerships. With around 50 new commissions a year, The Space will be one of the most exciting places on the internet to find new art, free for audiences and artist to explore, express and enjoy.

It’s very exciting as I feel that this has been a long time coming. We need a place to act as a kind of Tate Modern without walls online, a space that nurtures art made with code and with data – a go-to location to experience art that’s comfortable on the web. Imagine a web where we stumble and fall into art as we do in real life. Where are the unexpected Bansky’s we encounter on the Internet? Where are the surprising artworks that we accidentally click into? Where is the space that allows hackers to make art and artists to hack? I’m delighted to be one of the first co-commissioned artists at the Space.

What are some of the other works being shown this weekend?

The works being shown over the two-day hack range from early software art from the 1970s – including from the amazing Lilian Schwartz, who, while at Bell Labs in New Jersey, was experimenting with algorithms and digital imaging – through to recent online works such as Ai Wei Wei & Olafur Eliasson’s Moon project, a participatory global drawing project. Other artists include David Hockney, Sue Austin, and Paul Pfeiffer, among others.

How are you feeling about your Tate debut?

I’m taking the unusual step of previewing an unfinished work this weekend. It’s slightly unnerving, but as the entire piece is being developed in an open source way, with an open license and open data, it seems fitting to continue the trend and just expose the process.

If you’re in London, visit the Tate Modern Turbine Hall to view Freeman’s work live. We Need Us launches in September/early October on The Space. To learn much more about Julie Freeman and her work, visit the TED Blog >>>