Mapping personal data: “Human Trajectory” now on display in the Fermilab Art Gallery

The print "Latitude and Longitude Project (Urbana, IL 2008-2015)" by Stephen Cartwright is now on display in the Fermilab Art Gallery.

The print “Latitude and Longitude Project (Urbana, IL 2008-2015)” by Stephen Cartwright is now on display in the Fermilab Art Gallery.

Since June 21, 1999, artist Stephen Cartwright has been recording his exact position and elevation every hour using a handheld GPS device as part of his Latitude and Longitude Project. He transforms the data into maps, visualizations and sculptures that become richer with each data point.

In the exhibit currently showing at the Fermilab Art Gallery, “Human Trajectory,” you can see the art he’s created from this personally recorded data.

An artist reception for Cartwright will be held on Friday, May 6, from 5-7 p.m. in the art gallery. You can also hear Cartwright discuss his work in a gallery talk on Wednesday, May 11, from noon-1 p.m.

“Data is the underlying topography of our lives, and my work explores how data-saturated experience can give rise to artistic objects and practices and become aesthetic/mechanical versions of memories,” Cartwright wrote in an artist statement.

For Cartwright, those versions of memories take the form of two-dimensional prints that resemble maps of airline routes. They’re also cast as three-dimensional topographical maps made of Plexiglas.

They could also take the form of a kinetic illuminated sculpture: In a work titled “LED Levers,” the data are transformed into an interactive display: a row of motorized levers with a light bulb positioned at the end of each. The viewer selects a data set using a nearby dial, and the sculpture responds accordingly. The data set is manifested in the angles through which the levers move and the colors of the bulbs, collectively. One data set contains the average daily wind speed and temperature in Urbana, Illinois. Another contains the elevation and latitude from Cartwright’s 1997 cross-country bike ride. And there are others that the viewer can “see” with each turn of a nearby dial.

Cartwright is a member of the art faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an associate professor in the School of Art and Design.

“The conscious action of self-documenting heightens my awareness of place, landscape and routine,” Cartwright wrote. “The world is more complex than I can comprehend, but through my practice, I craft sculptural narratives that illuminate the value of place.”