“Bad Data” is a series of twelve data-visualizations, which I etched onto aluminum honeycomb panels using a high-pressure water-jet machine. They take the form of static objects, which collapse time into a single viewable space, emphasizing the ruptured surface of the material itself. The full project website is here.
The data is “bad” in the shallow sense of the word, depicting datasets such as “Missouri Abortion Alternatives” (which are actually just religious organizations) and “Internet Data Breaches” (a partial list). Others display a deeper sense of moral ambiguity, political polarization or social corruption, such as the locations and size of every prison in the United States, evictions in San Francisco, mass shootings in the United States and every marijuana dispensary in Colorado.
Bad Data also includes scientifically questionable datasets, such as worldwide UFO sightings and global haunted locations. Other artworks represent ruptures in our cultural fabric such as meth labs in Albuquerque and evictions in San Francisco.
As a set, the Bad Data series investigates an alternative form of data-representation through contemporary forms of digital fabrication. The effect of the water-jet machine is unpredictable. The top layer of the honeycomb gets pierced with the etching, while the bottom layer remains intact, creating gaps and fissures in the honeycomb material. The selected data mirrors the material itself with uneven patterns and uncertain outcomes. This technique continues my previous work of writing custom software code which transforms datasets into physical objects, in an attempt to answer the question: what does data actually look like?
This Instructable will detail the general process used to make these artworks. I expect that most people don't have access to a water jet machine, nor the technical and artistic inclination to reproduce this project. But hopefully, the Bad Data project will serve as a source of inspiration for some of you.
The material I chose to use is an aluminum honeycomb 3/4" panel. I found 4' x 2' sheets on eBay for $50 with free shipping, though the prices can vary as indicated by the picture.
Why did I use this? The 3/4" has a significant depth for more of a sculptural look. On the practical side, these panels aren't super-expensive and aluminum is light and durable, making the final artwork easy to ship and store.
The top and bottom layers — the "bread," of the panel are just 1/64". The "meat" is a lightweight vertical honeycomb, creating a very high strength-to-weight ratio. These panels are often used in aircraft or other industrial applications.
The panels on eBay are a bit scratched up, but the water jet will etch all portions of it, so the scratches and deformities won't affect the final result.
In the etching process, I pierced through the top layer of the honeycomb but not the bottom. The water hits the honeycomb and ricochets around, creating unpredictable mutations in the final surface. The uncertain results mirror the concept of the "bad" data itself, with ruptured data on the final surface.