Zach Blas: What is data?


ACCA (Australian Centre for Contemporary Art) · Zach Blas – What is data?


Data is not information. I’m quite fond of this distinction made by media theorist Alexander R. Galloway. Data following its Latin etymology means: the things that have been given. Thus data is ontologically raw presence in the world. While information on the other hand, is about the plastic adoption of shape. Data, therefore, have no necessary or required information as any move to turn data or what is ontologically raw in the world into information can be done in myriad ways. And this translation or mediation of data into information has political, social and cultural dimensions to it. Paying attention to how data is turned into information is of course of the utmost importance today, because in our age of big data, and surveillance capitalism, information is often presented as an unwavering and incontestable truth. But information is a primary mode in which the world and its peoples are governed and understood today. As such, us humans have a right to fight for data’s informatic shapes to be equitable and just. Data Relations then to me, brings our attention to various social, political and cultural relations, ongoing and unresolved, that data has with the world as it takes shapes into information. Like the way Biometrics is an informatics shaping of the body, or GPS is an informatics shaping of one’s location and positioning.

In my artwork Metric Mysticism: A Trolls Tale, I suggest that the crystal ball has become a popular device in the tech industry for turning data into information. When tech companies start to imagine that they are wizards looking into crystal balls to predict the future. What agencies do mere mortals seemingly lose for contesting and making their data relations with the world?