When Twitter, Microsoft, and Facebook need an expert to analyze their data, who do they turn to? The answer is Jer Thorp—the most respected Data Artist in America (what he does goes far beyond analysis). By creating multi-dimensional, visually stunning projects, often using hundreds of square feet of imagery and billions of pieces of data, Thorp makes data visible—and changes the way we think and act.
As a data artist, Jer Thorp shows us the human stories within endless scrolls of information, expressing trends, movements, and economics through vibrant graphics (and public art) seen by hundreds of millions of people. The new Innovator-in-Residence at the Library of Congress, a National Geographic Fellow, former Data Artist-in-Residence at The New York Times, and Artist-in-Residence at the Museum of Modern Art, Thorp is also a brilliant marketing speaker. He tracks consumers in ways few digital experts can—contextualizing their behavior, personalizing the anonymous, and frequently validating the work of digital marketers. A mesmerizing, funny, and socially engaged activist—often working at the juncture of social justice, technology, marketing, and art—Thorp reveals what we normally, and understandably, could never see in ‘big data.’ And he’s got the coolest graphics you’re going to see on stage.
“Underpinning Jer’s examples is a powerful common thread of humanizing data and making it a living piece of our personal histories and cultural poetics.”— Maria Popova
In other talks, Thorp illuminates the exciting potential of what his projects mean for society. “The work we do with data is not passive. It affects people’s lives and wellbeing,” he says. Data is about meaningful connections, as Thorp explored in his moving 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero, for which he wrote a program that organized the names of victims not by alphabetical order, but by relationships—putting coworkers next to coworkers, and brothers next to brothers. From 2013 to 2017, Thorp operated The Office for Creative Research, where he and his team implemented ingenious projects—like counting all the endangered elephants across the African continent, which helped influence ivory poaching policies. In February of 2017, amidst a rising tide of xenophobia, the OCR installed a sculpture in Times Square that depicted New York City’s rich history of immigration. The work comprised 33 hot-pink steel poles, each inscribed with the immigrant population of a particular country in New York—some inscribed with more than one. “From the side, or from the back, it looks like a bar chart,” describes Thorp. “And when you come around the front to a specific viewing angle, we used a one-point perspective trick to make it form a perfect heart.” During its one-month tenure, the sculpture was seen by 20 million people in person and 800 million online. And one of the OCR’s most ambitious projects to date is the cross-country “Map Room” series, which invites people to draw maps of their cities that reflect community history not seen on regular maps. “It encourages people to ask their own questions, and puts their stories front and center,” Thorp explains.
From 2010-2012, Thorp was the Data Artist-in-Residence at The New York Times, where he brought information to life by combining data science with a love of colorful design. His tremendously popular “Cascade” tool visualizes the sharing of content through social media, offering insight into the way we use digital networks to share, influence, and connect with others. “Cascade” was featured in Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, Fast Company, Mashable, and Adweek.
Native to Vancouver, Thorp now lives in New York City, where he teaches in NYU’s Interactive Telecommunication Program. He has been a vocal advocate around data, ethics, and privacy, spearheading a project with The OCR called Floodwatch, a collective ad monitoring tool that empowered individuals to see how advertisers were profiling them (often inaccurately, and unfairly). The aim was to help combat discriminatory practices, such as targeting specific demographics to fill a housing development over others. His award-winning work has been exhibited, read, and implemented in Europe, Africa, Asia, North America, and South America. He has over a decade of teaching experience, and has presented at The Ford Foundation in New York City, the National Academies, and the Library of Congress.
“We had an amazing time with you! It was fun and interesting and easygoing. Thank you! And the event was a huge success! People’s comments are raves. They had never heard this view about Big Data and it made total sense to them. Huge impact!”The Mob, Brazil
Living in Data
Data Art Beyond Visualization
We all know that data visualization can be a powerful tool for understanding. But what about data sonification? Or data sculpture? Or data performance?
Jer Thorp’s career as a data artists has brought him from the bustling newsroom of The New York Times to a submersible in the inky depths of the Gulf of Mexico; from the gleaming white galleries of MoMA to the divided streets of St. Louis. In this talk, Jer will examine how artists can insert themselves into data systems to provoke, interrogate and examine. Jer will discuss his own evolving practice as a Data Artist, and will propose ways for data visualization practitioners to move beyond charts and graphs.