Code+Art for a Different Kind of Data Experience

Data art “takes us beyond literal data visualization...to help us see the unexpected in data, to gain a sense for its cultural meaning, and make the otherwise abstract into an emotional experience,” writes Peter Hirshberg in his essay “The Art of Data.” Libraries have long been places where people have explored new ways of interacting with information and data. The NCSU Libraries’ Code+Art program continues this tradition by bringing an aesthetic lens to the increasing role of data in our lives.

This year, the NCSU Libraries embarked upon its inaugural Code+Art Student Visualization Contest. Through a competitive proposal process, the contest encouraged students to create large-scale, data-driven “generative art” for the twenty-foot wide Art Wall at the entrance to the James B. Hunt Jr. Library and for the large curved screen in the iPearl Immersion Theater. 

Call for proposals: Getting the word out

A key factor for the success of the contest was reaching out to students, faculty, and staff at NC State. In order to generate awareness we partnered with Ben Watson’s computer science class to help develop proposals. Proposals were also cultivated and workshopped through two meetups that were held in the fall semester, showcasing generative artwork from the NCSU community. An online community of practice was also established through the Code+Art Google+ community.

Library staff organized a Code+Art Meetup for potential contestants in the Creativity Studio at the Hunt Library.

The Finalists: Getting to work

Of several interdisciplinary teams that submitted proposals, two finalist teams were selected by a jury of faculty, students and library staff, who judged the proposals based on their creativity, feasibility, spatial relevance, audience appeal, and future development possibilities. These teams worked closely with Libraries staff to implement their projects. They were also competing for a grand prize to be awarded at a ceremony in the spring.

The WKNC team works on their project. From left to right: Colin Keesee, Cameren Dolecheck, Dylan Stein, Neal Grantham, and Harrison Wideman

Anthony Smith, a senior in Computer Science with a concentration in Game Development, developed Fractal Forest, a visualization which features an interactive planet that develops different types of trees as guests enter the Hunt Library. Smith said he hopes “that people will have a different experience every time they see my work.  Just like nature, it is always changing, so every viewing will be unique.” 

Grand Prize winner Anthony Smith stands in front of his visualization, Fractal Forest, on the Hunt Library Art Wall.

The team from NC State's student-run radio station, WKNC 88.1 FM, developed a music visualizer of the WKNC internet radio stream. Of their visualizer, project lead Cameren Dolecheck said, “In the wake of many other college radio stations being shut down, we hope to show that [WKNC] brings people together, enough to even make a work of this magnitude. …We hope this piece shows how much more goes on with a radio station other than DJing.” 

The second place WKNC team with their music visualizer in the iPearl Immersion Theater.

The Winners: Getting the grand prize

None of this could have been possible without a team of dedicated jury members made up of library staff, faculty, and students. During the deliberations, the jury considered criteria for the winning team, with respect to spatial relevance, audience appeal, and future opportunities for development of the art pieces.

Director of Visualization Services Mike Nutt presents Anthony Smith with his award at the Code+Art awards ceremony.

There was a packed house at the award ceremony where Fractal Forest took the Grand Prize of $600, and the team from WKNC won a second prize of $400. Following the ceremony, the audience had the opportunity to interact with the visualizations and ask the winning teams questions about their design processes. An interactive music visualizer developed by library staff members Trevor Thonrton and Jason Evans Groth also debuted that night.

Anthony Smith explains how the Arduino sensor is used in Fractal Forest.

The Future

The video walls at the James B. Jr. Hunt Library were installed to create a dialogue with library visitors about the changing nature of our world. The Art Wall, prominently displayed near the entrance to the library, provides the first opportunity to engage in this dialogue with the building. Students, faculty and staff have the opportunity to start the conversation, to delight and challenge our visitors. We welcome everyone to envision and create software-driven art for this digital space that will greet library visitors and give them a taste of the possibilities that await them inside the Hunt Library.

The Jury:

Dave Veroba - Christie® Digital Systems, Marketing Programs Manager
Patrick FitzGerald – Associate Professor, College of Design
Denise Gonzales Crisp – Professor, College of Design
Marc Russo –  Assistant Professor, College of Design
Stephen Lindberg – Alumnus, College of Design
Jason Ronallo – Interim Head, Digital Library Initiatives
Kevin Beswick -  Digital Technologies Development Librarian
Marian Fragola -  Director, Program Planning and Outreach
Shirley Rodgers – Information Technology Manager
Barbara Brenny – Visual Resources Librarian
Markus Wust – Digital Research and Scholarship Librarian
Mike Nutt – Director of Visualization Services
Payod Panda – Student, College of Design
Alisa Katz – Student, College of Design