Big Data Aesthetics

The issue with data visualisation

A reflection on Big Data Aesthetics

Jer Thorp, NYTimes: Hope vs. Crisis

The representation of unstructured, everly changing, chunks of data represents an issue which is just as complex to pin down as it is the variety of Big Data itself.

“Data in its raw form has no value. Data needs to be processed [and visualised] in order to be valuable.” (Technopedia)¹

As the volume of Big Data keeps growing, new practices and concepts concerned with its rendering, and the usage of this, are born. As Morten Søndergaard suggests in his article “The Politics of Big Data Aesthetics”², “the impact that big data techniques are having on the real world is motivated by the way we conceptualise [in other words, visualise] them”. Søndergaard also argues that the reason why this phenomenon is so controversial lies in its involvement with “real-life matters such as surveillance, (ubiquitous) marketing and tracking, the environment, the industry, and globalisation”.

When investigating the issue of representing big data in the realm of installation art, or more generally New Media art, the artist subjectively influences the mapping of data for this to be experienced as something “pointing beyond the data itself” (Søndergaard, 2016)².

How can we associate the concept of data with that of beauty?

This process requires us to think of “the database as medium — and use this medium as cognitive reference tool”(Manovich, 2002)³.

Experiencing data as a representation which we navigate is a the heart of the language of new media. “It is a very human process, and should not be understood as the language of computers”, Manovich describes.

To an extent, data visualization artists are a bit like translators. Aiming at mapping empirical phenomena into something we can perceive as humane, constituting a cognitive experience that eventually goes beyond the characteristics of data.


  1. (2018). What is Big Data? — Definition from Techopedia. [online] Available at:
  2. Søndergaard, M. (2018). The Politics of Big Data Aesthetics. [online] Available at:
  3. Manovic, L. (2001). The Language Of New Media. [book] The MIT Press. Available at:

Francesco Imola is a London-based musician, weekend photographer, and current Sound Design student at the University of Greenwich.