Data Artist Jer Thorp shows us the human stories within the infinite scrolls of our data, expressing it in vibrant graphics and public art seen by hundreds of millions of people. A National Geographic Fellow, Thorp works at the juncture of social justice, technology and art, presenting data in ways that reveal the selves we might not otherwise see.
A former Data Artist-in-Residence at The New York Times and Artist-in-residence at the MoMA, Thorp conveys data in a comprehensive way, making it beautiful. In his talks, Thorp illuminates the exciting potential of his projects and what they mean for society. “The work we do with data is not passive. It affects people’s lives and wellbeing,” he says. Data is about discrete 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.
Through public art and projects, Thorp shows us the important things that data can do. From 2013 to 2017, Thorp operated The Office for Creative Research with his peers, where together they implemented ingenious projects—like counting all the endangered elephants across the African continent, which helped influence ivory poaching policies. In February of this year, amidst a rising tide of xenophobia, the OCR installed a sculpture in Times Square that depicted New York City’s rich immigration history. Comprising 33 hot pink steel poles, each 15-foot marker was 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,” says Thorp. Then 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.” In the month it was up, the sculpture was seen by 20 million people in person and 800 million online. One of their 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.
“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
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 then help combat discriminatory practices, such as targeting specific demographics to fill a housing development over others.
A National Geographic Fellow, Thorp’s 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.