Cultured Magazine

April/May 2015

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Jer Thorp tells visual stories though the language of data. His multidisciplinary approach and research-based artistic practice explores and challenges the boundaries between art, data, culture and technology. His latest project, A Sort of Joy (Thousands of Exhausted Things), is a collaboration with the theater group Elevator Repair Service and a result of his two-year residency with the firm he founded, Office for Creative Research, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Cathy Leff: How do you describe your art practice? Jer Thorp: My work meanders around the boundaries between data and culture. I'm interested in how data can be understood as a cultural artifact and also how large-scale data systems are changing the way in which people live their lives. I do this mostly through tool making. Some of these tools are things that people can use on the internet or in public space; others are instruments that can be in performance or in the creation of visual systems. CL: How did your residency at MoMA come about? JT: Artists Experiment is a project that the education department at MoMA has been running for the last three years. The idea is to bring artists into the institution and to have them produce artwork that also can be understood as public programming. They invited me to take part last year, and I invited my collaborators Ben Rubin and Mark Hansen from the Office for Creative Research. Our engagement was actually extended by a year, so we've stuck around for a lot longer than was originally intended. CL: Did you—or they—have a specific idea or project in mind? JT: Not at all. We knew that we wanted to do something with data, and we knew that it was going to involve public participation in some way, but beyond that we went in with no preconceived ideas. I think one thing that we did bring into the collaboration was that we wanted to do something unconventional. Saying 'museum' and 'data' together in a sentence doesn't exactly raise heart rates. We definitely wanted to do something surprising. CL: Talk about the piece you created during your residency. JT: The work that we'll be showing at MoMA in April is a performance, made in collaboration with Elevator Repair Service. Six actors perform a mix of algorithmically produced scripts that will be different every time they are performed, and some things that are memorized. Each performance runs for about two hours, though people can engage with it for as long as they want. It's a chance to take the 127,000 pieces in the museum's holdings that are not on exhibit at any given time, and to bring them into the space, to connect with people and with the other artworks that are on the wall. It's also a way to make something public and to give it a more exciting role than it typically has. CL: Do you have any recommendations for other institutions on how they might use artists to animate their collections and engage audiences? JT: I think there are two answers here: first, take whatever data you have about your collections and put it online. The Tate did this in a really simple way when they put their collections data on GitHub. Part of the role of a museum or a library is to connect the public to information. Second, if you don't already have one, create a residency project. It can be small—maybe one artist for one month. It ends up being a symbiotic relationship: your institution will benefit, the artist will benefit and your audience will benefit. 120 CULTURED Numbers Game Artist Jer Thorp took on MoMA's vast holdings, creating a new visual system of data as art. Cathy Leff speaks to Thorp about raising heart rates with data and what to do with 127,000 pieces of art. Artist Jer Thorp

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