Visualising the beauty of data

Over the past few weeks I’ve seen some inspiring works which highlight the way ahead for data visualisation. While well tabulated, graphed and mapped data in 2D can provide a high level of information for interpretation and decision making – shouldn’t good data also make you feel something?

Co-founders of Sydney based company Code on Canvas,  Lukasz Karluk and René Christen, started by developing interactive projection art for urban environments but have turned to develop a range of other data visualisation applications. They show how data in the hands of artists can become a playful and aesthetic medium in its own right. By taking real-time seismic data they produced ‘Energy Pools’, a generative animated data painting for a major energy organisation. Although this data is an important element of the organisation’s core business, the work by Code on Canvas was commissioned and displayed by the company as a digital art work.


Exxon Energy Pools
Still image from ‘ENERGY POOLS’ Code on Canvas


For over three years Tom Chandler and fellow researchers from the Sensilab team, based at Monash University, have painstakingly reconstructed the Angkor Wat complex to visualise how the sophisticated temple landscape may have appeared in the 13th Century AD. The 3D rendering of the complex is based on architectural information of remnant buildings, archaeological artifacts, and other historical data. The next phase for the team was to populate the environment with ‘actors’ based on current interpretations of how the community and visiting pilgrims may have interacted in and around the temple site. The generated mapping of the population has in itself presented alternative understandings of the site. For the casual viewer the aesthetic beauty of the model alone is a mesmerising insight into this remarkable World Heritage location.


Closer to home an exhibition currently showing at the State Library, “Locus Amoenus” (Place of Delight) by John Power, presents another generative environment. For this work rather than faithfully represent the environment, John has developed a more imagined environment to create a sense of place. John (my clever younger brother) is an artist and animator but has applied his skills to create a digital world based on a series of contrasting Victorian landscapes. The generated visualisation takes us through forests, rivers, coastline and mountains.

When I arrive the AI shuttle programmed into the animation, has just picked up the camera and dropped it off to take us on a gentle walk through the sclerophyll forest environment. For me it’s a recognisable and soothing representation of the familiar foothills of the Dandenongs.

Detail – Indigenous vegetation “Locus Amoenus” by John Power

The landscape is lush with vegetation of faithfully rendered indigenous species from around Victoria and the viewer is offered time to observe and feel the environment.

The immersive work also takes Melbourne’s much loved real-time weather data from the BOM (Bureau of Meteorology) to animate the landscape. Wind speed, temperature, cloud cover, humidity as well as the diurnal changes of light are brought to life in the space, through the movement of water and foliage, recreating the outside world.

While most of us could simply step outside to have this experience, John’s work has also been displayed at Victoria’s Peter McCallum Cancer Centre, allowing people to have some respite from their treatment and care during times when getting outside is difficult.

While I was at the exhibition, the therapeutic value of the ambient work was self-evident – even a small gang of four lively brothers took the chance to chill out in beanbags and take in the atmosphere which had an almost immediate pacifying effect. While most visual animations we experience aim to stimulate and activate us – particularly animations aimed at children through advertising, gaming and film, John’s work aims to engage the senses in a more meditative and personal way.

By the time I leave the Library the sun is setting and the animation is also settling in for the night. If we had been able to stay we would have seen the planets, moon and stars rise in the landscape too.


Screen image of Locus Amoenus – generative ambient environment at the State Library


Locus Amoenus is a free exhibition on at the State Library until 17 June.

Links for more information

Code on Canvas


John Power’s Locus Amoenus


posted by Megan Power 11 June 2017

Monkey Gully Research is pleased to promote community based digital art initiatives




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