Self-Tracking As Artistic Practice
Jacek Smolicki is an artist and curator based in Sweden, where he does his research. Since 2009, Jacek Smolicki has experimented with using personal data as a mode for artistic exploration. In this talk, he presents some of his practices: making a collage from that week’s magazines, drawing portraits of people on the train, photographing 7 found objects during a weekly walk, recording one-minute soundscape samples, and more. He also shares what he has learned from his experiments.
Hello, everyone, my name is Jacek Smolicki, and I’m based in Sweden, where I do my research, and I’m also an artist and lately curator. And I’m here to talk about a slightly different perspective on tracking, namely an artistic perspective.
So I’m going to present my project, which is a set of lifelong personal practices, utilizing different technologies, different technologies to build some kind an aesthetic archive, so to speak.
So I started in 2008, by developing this in practice that was based on collecting different sonic impressions. But then gradually instead of developing technologies, I moved to developing techniques of utilizing existing technologies. So, as you can see here. I’m using different media, such as photography, sound recorders and so on to capture different aspects of my life.
And as you see perhaps typically, Quantify Self is very much inward oriented; it's very much about canalizing yourself. And I'm trying also to kind of expand this perspective, and look at your personal data, something that is being you know constructed in the context of the space around you. So attention and our space is a very important aspect of my practices.
And here you see. So far I have around 12 regularly perform practices that I started in 2008, and they are gradually growing. And I have a little website where I present outcomes of them. You can visit it, and I will give you the link later. And I'm going to guide you very very briefly through some of the practices.
So, one of them called self-tracking is based on registering and recording my presence through using a GPS device. And each of these little traces, obviously one day of my presence.
And here to give you an example is a walk I took in the Alps with my friend Alberto Frigo, and at the top, you can see a very little, little tiny line indicating an avalanche that we both ended up in. So for you guys, it's very very abstract thing, but for me it has a very very concrete emotional associations.
Another practice is every week going through different newspapers; I'm trying to cut out certain affective images or slogans, or headlines and compose my own little kind of mnemonic devices.
So, to give you an example, four years ago in California, I was in Palo Alto, and I just picked one random newspaper, and just took out of it what was the most kind of effective. And it’s also a way of kind of memorizing the very very concrete moment, the very very concrete day through the, you know, present news and what’s going on around me.
Another practice called facing, is a documentation of random people encountered on public transportation. So each time I take a public transportation, I would hand draw a portrait of a person, trying also to avoid getting obsessed with digital devices. And in Sweden, 90% of people you know, in the public transportation is very much drawn to their devices and looking down and so on. And I'm trying to kind of reclaim the power of manual skills by drawing those people.
At other practice called traversing, is about documenting seven objects recyclable or reusable objects found in the public space. So every week I take a walk when I’m trying to find seven objects, and then I build this kind of little calendar thing, and this is the made part you see is Sweden, and you can also recognize a kind of typical attribute of spaces or countries, for instance, pacifier is very typically represented in Sweden.
Another practice called minuting is about recording one sound every day, at least one sound. So whenever I am attracted to a specific soundscape, I would take out my sound recorder that I always carry with me, and record it for one minute. I use binomial microphones, and also this practice kind of connects me better with the space.
I mean life logging is very much about visual, and what I’m trying to explore also in my research is this sonic perspective in life logging. How can we document our lives by you know getting concerned with the sonic aspects of our life.
Street sampling is another that is utilizing the sound recorder. I record street musicians and buskers, and how their presence in the space reverberate and builds a new type of situations, and I occasionally use that break out to construct little push performances. I release albums sometimes, so that data becomes also some kind of beginning of a new context.
Another practice that is called passing is a documentation of every long-distance travel I take. So, let’s say taking a train from one place to another, I would record 30, 60, or 122seconds long video clip that represents my journey.
Another practice this time it takes place is scribbling where I have different practices whereby, for instance, comment on different situations you know that I find myself in or characterizing which is about describing very briefly people that I get acquainted to and so on.
You can visit and see the samples of those projects on ongoing dot net. It’s kind of continuously under construction as the project itself; it’s a life logging issue. I don’t have a very concrete goal; I don't have any concrete aim at advancing myself in a way that you know provides me with something concrete pragmatic. It's perhaps a way of trying to explore different ways of presenting my life through data.
And I would like to talk about it from three perspectives. From the perspective of a citizen, so basically the aim is to mindfully organize my digital footprint. It’s a form of an applied I call it data psychology. I mean, we live in the times where you know data is surrounding us and kind of overtaking our daily reality. What I’m trying to develop in these practices is some kind of ecological approach, where I document very select and very very limited amount of inspirations and impressions that come to me.
As an artist, I see it as a way of developing personal aesthetics and poetics, personal archiving again and away to take control of the data, and of course experiment also as an artistic medium.
I've been trying to experiment with the location data by printing them out in 3-D, and exhibiting and also will be talking about, for instance, those 3-D traces as some kind of mnemonic devices that can kind of connects you back to very concrete situations.
And finally, as a research, I see this project as a way of dressing current debate on personal recording and tracking and archiving practices. Also in the context of ever more automated and standardized format of how we go about documenting our lives, or how different third parties and agencies go about documenting our lives.
I mean, we live in the time where data surveillance becomes a kind of condition that we also have to address, and I have a feeling for instance artists are the ones who have an interesting take on addressing those issues.
So thank you very much for the presentation and for the possibility to present, and if you want to see more, please go on ongoing dot net. There is an exhibition as well that you might have already seen that I warmly invite you to, where you can see different other artistic takes on self-tracking.
Thank you very much.