Ben Fry: Isometric blocks
SNP gene sequences
Ben Fry: Salary vs performance
Baseball team expenditure
That is the lesson of Occam's Razor, the famous principle from reductionist science. It certainly should ring true to Ben Fry, who has made number sequences his field of aesthetic study. He developed his taste for data while at the Aesthetics & Computation Group at MIT, receiving his Ph.D. for a his dissertation on Computational information design. He currently works at the Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard on what he calls "genomic cartography", finding useful mappings of the genetic data.
Fry typically works by reducing the elements of the data set to their essential interactions. Once so reduced, he applies minor aesthetic constraints in order to make the data reveal its hidden structures. When compared to classic visualizations that rely on brute computational force and unreadable graphs, it is this light touch and clarity of approach that makes his works so appealing. Several of his projects (like Valence and Anemone) have already become classics of computational design.
While not committing to his role as artist, Fry continually crosses the art/science divide by exhibiting at places like the Whitney Biennial and the Ars Electronica. Some of his works have made cameo appearances in Hollywood feature films like “Minority Report” and “The Hulk”. Fry has also received considerable attention for co-founding the Processing project with Casey Reas. For that work they recently received a Golden Nica at Prix Ars Electronica 2005.
The Whitney Artport are currently having an online exhibition of Ben Fry. Users can interact with a selection of 4 works. Zipdecode and Distellamap have been shown in various incarnations before, while Salary vs performance is a new work looking at numbers in the world of baseball. All have been written (or re-written) in Processing for online viewing.
The Generator.x exhibition will contain two works on paper by Fry, one from his work on Haplotype structures and one of his Dismap visualizations of the execution structure of computer applications. Here, his pieces represent a direction in generative work where artists and designers concern themselves with data as a pure source of abstraction and complexity. This practice has been described by theorists like Manovich as “data art”, the art of data mapping.
- Processing project
- Lev Manovich: "The Anti-Sublime Ideal in New Media" (a text dealing with data mapping in art)