From Numbers to Art: this 23-year old from Leuven visualises data into unique tactile 3D installations

05/04/2018

There is a lot of data out there these days that is longing to be visualised. Many companies have turned this into their core business. Just like Eline Cornelissen (23). Born and raised in Leuven, Eline visualises data in three-dimensional installations rather than behind a computer screen. We just had to know how that works. 

Eline, transforming data into visual installations is quite different from all the digital visualisations we see nowadays. How did you decide to do this offline?

During my Bachelor in graphic design I was already into photography and crafting things by hand. I love the tactile aspect it gives. For my Master thesis in information design, I used my grandfather’s old agendas in which he logged all of his bike rides since 1973. He kept everything, ranging from the distance to the type of weather it was that day or anything in particular about the places he visited. In my thesis, I mapped and visualised the geographical regions where he did his cycling.

And that was the start of your first installation ’11,3 times cycled around the world’.

Exactly. My aim was to give an overview of and insight in the complete biking history of my grandfather and the places he visited in a tactile way. It’s a lot of data to show so an installation seemed the best idea since the 3D design gives an extra dimension for information. The realisation of this installation cost much energy, effort and especially perseverance. It was an intense process: after designing and drawing the installation, I had to carve sticks for a month, approximately four hours a day. Then I had to paint all those 5894 sticks and drive them into the milled plates. Luckily, the 5894 holes in the plates were already drilled out mechanically.

6,000 bike rides, 6,000 hand carved and coloured sticks

Eline's grandfather in front of the installation '11,3 times cycled around the world'. Notice the density of bike rides in his more 'active' years and the summer months.

Like you said, it is a lot of data. The whole installation is four metres wide and has about 6,000 sticks on it. What do they all depict?

Each stick represents one bike ride. The length of the stick symbolises the number of kilometers he did on that ride; the longer the stick, the more kilometers. I accounted one centimeter for each 10 kilometers. You really see that there’s a peak in the distances he did in his better years and that it started dropping again when he got a bit older. Logically, the summer months are packed with sticks whereas the winter months are less densely filled.

And how are they positioned and coloured that way?

They are positioned according to a matrix depicting the days, months and years, from 1973 to 2015. You can see that he went for a ride several times on January 1st, but never on Christmas day, which is his birthday, for example. The colour scheme shows the weather that day. A yellow stick means it was sunny, grey stands for cloudy, light blue is rainy, navy blue is a storm and white is snow.

The more you look at it, the more details you discover. I noticed a couple of little pearls on some of the sticks?

It’s all in the details! A green pearl means that he did that ride on a new bicycle, a light red means something broke during his ride, and a dark red means that he had an accident.

Such a feat must’ve drawn a lot of attention.

It did. Last year, the European Commission saw my installation on LUCA School of Art’s website and asked me to design an installation for the conference ‘Opportunities for a knowledge and innovation community in urban mobility’. This was a conference about greener, cleaner and innovative transport in cities. I used data of the CO2 emissions from all forms of transport in an average European city and wanted to show it in a bar graph. The installation consists out of 200 laser-cutted CO2 blocks. Each block counts for each participant of the conference. At the end of the conference each participant received one of those CO2 blocks. A statement about transport is engraved at the back of each block; opening the debate on cleaner forms of transportation.

Do you prefer creating visualisations for an organisation or is there room for creations of your own?

Both, really. I like working with organisations to help them get a tactile overview of otherwise complex data. But I’m also working on a new project of my own in which I try to visualise emotions. This project has a more artsy feeling to it but it still isn’t finished.

Inspired by and& headliner Stefan Sagmeister

Your work is a true cross over between high-tech and creativity. Is there anyone in this field that inspires you?

Georgia Lupi, an Italian artist, manages to combine both big data from organisations and personal data from her own projects. It’s inspiring to look at. There are some other international artists who have done data visualisation before, but in Belgium, I haven’t found anyone else that does it … yet. On another note, I am coming to and& summit & festival to see Stefan Sagmeister! He’s not really into data visualisation but an inspiration none the less.

That’s just what we want to hear! Is there anything you hope to visualise one day?

Nothing in particular, however themes such as sustainability or sociology are great to visualise. It’s also nice if the data automatically adds some sort of moral to the story.

Improving the world, one installation at a time!

Eline’s installation ’11,3 times cycled around the world’ will be shown at Stelplaats from 6 April to 18 June and in library Tweebronnen in Leuven from 18 June to 27 August.

Organisations interested in a unique 3D visualisation of their data or people who are interested in buying her Master thesis can always Contact Eline for more information.