Data in Public

datainpublic is a two-person design studio from AHO. Our aim is to probe our contemporary relationship with public digital media, which currently operates as a vessel for functional or commercial information. We are investigating how public data x digital media x public space might create spaces or scenarios for the public to discuss or engage with the sociopolitical issues of our day.

News, Interrupted

News, Interrupted: Jenny Holzer × the News takes another approach to how news is typically presented in public space.

From the classic news ticker to current, digital front pages (which typically use a key image and headline) on lobby screens, consuming the news in public is a passive experience. We wondered - how might we interrupt or augment this experience?

The Concept

We wanted to match current headlines with other juxtaposing material. For our first prototype in this area, we drew upon artist Jenny Holzer’s work. By matching some of her phrases with current news headlines, we hope to explore humour and the absurd, prompt reflection and perhaps materialize how we subconsciously consume and cope with the news.

Automating the Newsfeed

For this work to exist in public for the longterm, it needs to run on its own. We needed to find a way to completely automate pulling the headlines and matching them with Holzer's phrases.

We automated getting the headlines by drawing from the APIs of 4 news sources: the New York Times, the South China Morning Post, BBC News and Reuters. We then used a sentiment analysis tool to rate how positive or negative each headline is - and then based on that value, the headline was auto-assigned a Holzer phrase. It wasn't a science, but generally speaking we mapped more compassionate phrases onto negative headlines, and more critical phrases onto neutral or positive stories.

Machines are Awkward Sometimes

Sometimes, the result of News, Interrupted is poignant. It tells a larger story in a very succinct way. Other times, it's awkward. The headline itself is awkward, or the matching of the Holzer phrase is uncomfortable. We tried controlling for this, but as we continued, we came to embrace it - when the pairing is good, it's as if one of us curated the match. But when the pairing is off, you can actually feel the machine. The uncomfortable match is a material reality of how we produced the work.

Design Considerations

We wanted to play with kinetic text in order to help maintain interest, catch people’s eyes, and take advantage of the digital medium. Animations were developed in and imported from the Space Type Generator.

This prototype has yielded some learnings on what different media can afford. We are currently navigating how this might work on a projection, versus a screen, versus an e-ink screen.

All of Jenny Holzer’s phrases belong to her. We are admirers and students of her work.

Future Directions

We see this prototype as the first of many possible ways to reframe the news. We intend to explore other possibilities, including: using local news only; comparing today’s headlines with headlines from the past; using AI-generated headlines; and matching headlines with other data sets, fiction, or bodies of work from other artists.

We may also move away from the news altogether, and use this format to juxtapose the promise of a thing with the reality of a thing. Further explorations planned.