DATA RAFT: participatory installation with code, sticks, pools, electronics.


Data Raft uses code and making processes to transform email metadata from intangible and private to tangible and public. In this work, a participant builds a stick raft, attaches a sail embroidered with select personal data points, and sets this vessel afloat on an in-gallery pond.


Programming code is active beneath our online actions. As we use the Internet, write emails, search Google, send Tweets, comment on Facebook, or post photos on Instagram, we are constantly creating data. Much of this data remains invisible to us while it is archived by companies and governments. Code, written and maintained by programmers, performs our aggregate data and determines how websites behave. In the case of large corporate websites, highly complex algorithms decide which data will or will not be seen in our searches or “news feeds”. Data Raft investigates relationships between code and personal data. It does so by allowing a participant to consciously reveal and freeze his data points. He then briefly tempers his digital multitasking frenzy by slowing down to make something by hand out of simple materials.


When a visitor enters the Data Raft exhibition, he is invited to participate. He then logs into his email account with the artist, where we retrieve personal account metadata representing “Years Had Account”, “Total Emails Sent of All Time”, “Sent to Top Contact” and “Name of Top Contact”. This is input into the custom Data Raft html page ( ). A screenshot of this sail is then transferred to the computer embroidery machine where the sail is printed on muslin fabric.


Next, the participant moves to a station where he uses sticks and wire to build his raft. The sail and a pre-soldered LED circuit and battery are attached to the completed raft platform. A key moment occurs when the participant sets the raft afloat on one of the in-gallery pools. When the wires dangling from the LED touch the pool surface, the water’s conductivity connects the circuit and the mast is lit.



Data Raft was part of Up the Creek / Under the Cloud, an exhibition that also included Alexia Mellor’s Quilting Code, a piece that asked participants to collectively hand-embroider custom codes based on cloud data and top search results.


Up the Creek / Under the Cloud was held in January 2014
at the University of Sunderland with Quilting Code