PICNIC 08 – The Sheep Market by Aaron Koblin

On: September 25, 2008
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About Hannah Biemold
Artist and blogger who wrote a novel last year in the NaNoWriMo program (National November Writing Month). The book, called 'In het hooi', has been published by Uitgeverij Vuurpapier in june 2010. Hannah finished the master New Media program in 2009 at the University of Amsterdam. She wrote a master thesis on Twitter implications (twesis). Besides this, Hannah is trying to visualize ideas about the world through conceptual art, she is looking for confrontation with these borders and wants to know of they're stretchable.


Yesterday afternoon Aaron Koblin (creator of software and architectures to transform social and infrastructural data into artwork) presented some of his art projects on Picnic 08. He started with a graphic of air traffic in America so the viewer could see when and where the most flights were taking place. Every flight was a thin white line and more flights meant a brighter and thicker line. Like between Washington and New York showed the most white and in the middle of the United States it stayed kind of dark. In this lecture, that was also broadcasted through a stream, Koblin showed us a few examples of his work like an incoming Yahoo e-mail graphic with peeks in major American cities on the east coast. The image consisted of a 3D map which he could turn around like Google Earth and the e-mail was visualized by vertical cylinders where the color symbolized the intensity of the sent e-mail.

He then showed the project behind the title of his lecture, a project of live drawing of 10.000 sheep on a collaborative website using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. On this particular website every visitor was invited to draw a sheep and was paid 0,02 for every sheep drawn, although this was limited to 5 sheep per person (based on IP address I think). Thousands of volunteers drew a sheep and all the data was collected and now presented in this lecture. Koblin showed us a playback from some drawings, as if the spectator was the person who drew the sheep. Some data was about the number of sheep per minute and the fastest (4 seconds) and the longest it took to draw a sheep (64 minutes). if you go to this site now you can actually see how people drew their sheep. The idea was to bring people together through the Internet and collaborate. 

Another great project was the making of the video of ‘house of cards’ for Radiohead with a laser. 3D plotting technologies collected information about the shapes and relative distances of objects. The video was created entirely with visualizations of that data. On the site you can play with the image with your mouse and turn it around, this must look amazing on a big screen! He then made a tread on YouTube so other users there could play with the format and post their version of this video clip. Then another project is the visualization of text messages sent in Amsterdam on new years eve and queens day. Just like the Yahoo mail visualization the amount of messages was made visible in cylinders of different color where the yellow ones had the highest intensity. At certain times the cylinders were really peaking, also this map could be turned around like Google Earth. The 100 dollar billet project where a billet was cut in thousands of pieces and every user had one little piece that he or she had to copy by hand on the computer through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Like the sheep project this was all recorded and can now be played now like small movies which show the development of the copy of the original 100 dollar billet. Not every user did the right copy though, one of Koblins favorite was a user who just wrote the text ‘0,01$!!! really?’.

This morning, also on Picnic 08,  Clay Shirky mentioned the lecture of Aaron Koblin when he talked about motivation of volunteers who participated in art projects online. Why are people working together on a project like this? Why do people do a lot of pieces or just one? These users are not employees but they are in fact working for Koblin, thus helping him with the artwork. And you can not recruit people, but just invite them to join.

In another lecture given by Raul Niño Zambrano with the title ‘Diagrams fo the masses’ given about two weeks ago at the University of Amsterdam, data was made visible though the use of interactive media on websites. The reason here was increasing public awareness of political issues. Examples that were given were a presentation of Al Gore on global warming and an extra layer of information on Google earth with information on the political situation in Darfur. In these examples two people can only view but in the next example of Gapminder people can actually participate by selecting different criteria. Zambrano gave three different levels of participating, these are viewing, interact and explore and create and share. In the next example he gave was on reporting crime on the website Ushahidi. Here people can actually report crime and thus make a difference. Although the date collected this way is not 100% secure or reliable. Going back to the projects of Koblin, people can also just view projects or interact with the Turk program or create their own video for Radiohead. Also here date is made visible although the purpose is different but it’s very nice to compare them with each other as they have a different purpose.

3 Responses to “PICNIC 08 – The Sheep Market by Aaron Koblin”
  • September 26, 2008 at 10:57 am

    One of the criticisms of Koblin’s Sheep Market is that it recapitulates a colonial form of economic relationship, where laborers will work for impoverished sums to support the aims of the employer. In this case, Koblin paid .02 per sheep to generate works of art valued at $20,000, to say nothing of the residuals of artistic fame, such as a gig at PICNIC.

    Artistically, most of the sheep are pretty lousy. Taken as a whole, the project is provocative, but it’s not clear if Koblin can extricate himself from complicity in the critical issues raised by his work.

  • September 27, 2008 at 1:31 am

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