Exclusive: Laurie Frick Turns Your Cell Phone Data Into Art

When you hear the term ‘data artist,’ there’s a certain image that may come to mind; hair back in a bun, a tweed pantsuit, maybe horn rimmed glasses. At least that’s what you would think until you meet technologist turned artist Laurie Frick. It was easy to identify the energetic ex-techie, who wore a bright turquoise sundress with leopard print glasses and yellow rain boots to match, her rich, curly red hair accentuated with some pink and purple highlights. She whisked me around the Pavel Zoubok Gallery where her latest show Who Are You? What Day Is It? is installed as she explained her mission as a ‘data artist.’

Her technology-based background was not lost in her speech when she told me ‘I’ve read the site and I want to know where you want to take this interview,’ constantly drawing focus back to how our interview would be shared out on social media. Frick spoke efficiently and chose her words carefully, easily hopping from one subject to the next. She showed me all of her gadgets, from her two different phones to her heart monitor watch to her step counter. As we circled her work, we easily jumped from art to data, the tribulations of being a woman in a very male-dominated field, and even to the meaning of the future itself.

You worked in high tech for awhile. How was it being in that field as a woman?

It got tiring. You know, you sit in those staff meetings as the only woman. It gets to be a lot. I think being tall really helped me. I look back and think about it more. A lot of the sexist stuff didn’t even register. In the moment, you’re hustling and fighting over budgets. It’s a full contact sport because there’s so much money. But that helped me, because I’m so fascinated by the way technology changes things, the way it changes people. I saw that Disney movie with George Clooney, Tomorrowland, with a friend the other day, and we were thinking about climate change. We were just really wondering, is anyone in our lifetime really going to take a stab at it? We decided that the only times that people really change behavior, like really just revolutionize their attitude, is when someone puts new technology in front of them. People don’t just change.

How do you think tech is changing people?

Well, there’s this measured aspect of it now, and it’s much much more personable. If someone tells you to meditate 30 minutes a day, you’re not going to listen. Who cares? But, if I measured your day and gave you these things about you, you might pay closer attention.

Like some kind of infographic read?

Beyond that! If I gave you something textured. The wood, leather, blocks. You want to touch it, feel it. You can learn from that.

Is that what made you go with such earthy materials?

Yes. It’s tactile now, and colorful. You’re brain registers it. It feels the personal connection, and it knows that that’s your day right there! Your brain knows, ‘I’m me. I’m okay. I’m cool.’ It’s also a very specific sensation when you’re in a space and these things are literally bigger than you.

What is a data artist?

Well, its just taking data and putting it in a easily consumable context that you can relate to. I really think data helps you to know yourself. A lot of people are really paranoid and I’m thinking, ‘No no no, you’ve got it all upside down.’ It’s not a paranoia. It’s going to be this real moment of ‘Who are you?’ I think there’s this moment in the future, where data starts to jump into the world of disrupting markets. Technology will bring really low cost, personal art to people. It might look like this stuff, but they’ll just be 3D printed and laser cut. I think the future of art is your data. I mean, all of this work is data.

And you really focused on time with this data, correct? What got you thinking about time?

This one is time. I really like the things that you do that are more unconscious. I have a device measuring my heart, a step counter, but I know how much I moved that day. It feels deliberate. There’s this app you can get called Moment that tracks every time you touch your phone.

I would be so afraid to see my results from that.

I do it because I think using your phone is a good thing. I don’t find it wasteful. I think there’s nothing about it that’s bad. They do it as a way to limit you, put you on a phone diet. But I have things that track what sites I go to on my computer, how long I’m on them for. You can go back and look through it all, and you can almost see this rhythm to it. For example, I wake up in the morning and I just do nothing for a while, but then later in the afternoon, I get work done. You can see a real routine to your day. That’s what got me started and I realized that we’re completely measuring all of time. Watches, phone computers, everything you touch is going to be measured and I thought, ‘Well what does that really look like?’

How do the colors come into play for each action? Is it synesthetic in nature?

Exactly, because it all feels that way. Reading feels blue, travel is beige. Fridays are brown. It’s funny that you say that because that’s really exactly what it is.

What do you feel like the mission behind this show is?

Well, people really do think about how we spend the day a lot. There’s a huge anxiety behind it. ‘Am I spending my time productively? Is there something better I can be doing?’ When you’re thinking about what you did today, your schedule, at a certain point that is who you are. It’s kind of a haze. You take a nap, you wake up and you ask ‘What day is it?’ You know who you are by knowing where you are in time. It’s about being in the present, not the past, not the future.

When do you think the future will happen? Have we got there already?

I think the next big thing is prediction. We’ll know it’s the future when it’s not really even the future anymore. I think this moment we’re stuck in is rather predictable. There’s a team at Cornell run by this woman, Deborah Estrin, and they look at what they call ‘small data.’ They’re looking at how many people you talk to in a day, how quickly you respond to emails, things that are pretty innocuous. They can track depression that way. They can see how you’re feeling now and track that til tomorrow.

Wow. Do you think that’s riding into ‘Big Brother is Watching’ territory?

I think we’re very long past that. Big Brother already knows everything he wants. There’s no chance of stopping it. So it becomes a problem, ‘What rights do I have? How do I fight back and reclaim?’ I think that we all need to take back our data. It’s amazing what you can anticipate off of very little data!

Is there any thing else you want the readers of Milk Made to know?

I really just want people to know that this Big Brother data stuff is not what they’re making it out to be. There’s a reclamation there. You can use your data to help you.

‘Who Are You? What Day Is It?’ is showing now at Pavel Zoubok Gallery until July 25th

Check out Laurie’s website here

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