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Drawing Intersections between Humans and Data: #OCcreatives with Arundathi Rajan

As we continue on with our #OCcreatives series, we got to talking with Arundathi Rajan, a designer and researcher focusing on the intersections between humans and data. Arundathi's work surrounds life as we know it and ties it to a traditional sense of data interpretation, making for an immensely interesting result.

What inspires your work bridging the gap between humans and data?

As Barbara Tversky explains in the book, Making with Data, data is something that began as physical, real stuff in real time: people, things, places, events, ticks in time, a birth, a death, an atom smashed, a price declined, dots in space that accumulate. Of late, data has been melted into a two-dimensional surface of pixels and colourful graphs that have successfully glorified the need for the distance - distance that is implicitly inserted between people and the data that they produce. “Quantification is a technology of distance”, says Theodore Porter. However this seemingly neutral perspective to data visualisation seems like a utopian fantasy. Data sciences are notoriously famous for being branded as a technical field. Unemotional, unempathetic and unbiased. This logic sets up the false binary between emotion and reason, which of course is a gendered binary. The only alternative to objectivism doesn’t have to be a complete retreat into relativism. As an exhibition design student and as a female in her early 20’s, the inquiry of embracing emotion and embodiment in the field of data visualisation, and the challenge of curating data as a tangible physical experience, deeply interests me. I am currently working on my graduation project titled, ‘Reinventing interactions between humans & data’ that aims to create tangible experiences with data, providing an opportunity for the viewer to become a participant, to question the processes and methods used to collect and compile data, a much slower process that encourages one to pause, think and reflect.

Barring all limitations, what does your dream project look like?

Data collection and visualisation can be a laborious process, but with the right methods I truly believe that data can be made playful, approachable and reflective of the realities that we live in. I am not sure if I have the vision for a singular dream project that I want to realise. The fields of data science and visualisation could greatly benefit from more participatory and collaborative projects, and I would like to be a part of the change. I am very interested in understanding the ways through which the language of data can be imparted to communities for empowerment. While we dive deep into collecting counter-data to quantify and visualise structural oppression, we must remember that minoritized individuals and groups should not have to repeatedly prove that their experiences of oppression are real. If everyone spoke in the language of data, how might change manifest? How can we use data to remake the world?

Let's play fortune teller - what do you think the future of our relationship with data look like?

From my limited experience in the field, I’ve noticed that tangible data visualization and the physicalization of data still feel like counter movements within the broader discipline. For the future of our relationship with data, I hope that people from all fields examine data through their respective contextual lenses. There’s a growing apprehension about securing personal data and gaining ownership over it. We see everyday examples of how a simple wish list in our notes app gains traction as soon as it becomes a Google search. In our quest to simplify our lives, we’re becoming increasingly reliant on technology to make choices for us. I’m not saying technology is the enemy here, but we need to remain vigilant. Always question the numbers. Look at how they were derived, because those numbers carry meaning. They influence decisions and shape our world and the laws that govern it, so it’s crucial to understand and scrutinize them.

Can you give us three recommendations for art, films, artists, music, anything!

- I've recently been obsessed with Noah Kahan. A clear favourite would be Orange Juice.

- If you haven't yet read the "The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida", then it's definitely something that you should consider adding to your reading list.

- Movie: A Boy Called Sailboat. It’s a movie that’s very close to my heart. If I had to describe it, it’s like eating an ice-lolly at the beach.



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