An Artist with Big Ideas

From June 26 through July 2, 2013, a carefully curated group of thinkers and leaders from around the world gathered in Colorado for the Aspen Ideas Festival, a series of lectures, classes and discussions that has been called a “summer university for the mind.” Joining such speakers as U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, and singer Annie Lennox, was Luke DuBois, an assistant professor of Integrated Digital Media in the Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) Department of Technology, Culture and Society.

In addition to giving a lecture titled “Sex, Lies, and Data Mining” and participating in a panel discussion with other contemporary artists, DuBois took part in “The Art of Data,” a show that will be mounted at the Doerr-Hosier Center on the Aspen campus until September 2.

Peter Hirshberg, the collector who spearheaded the show along with gallerist Steven Sacks, explained, “The artist [...] has always helped us see the world in new and different ways. New technologies have also reliably led to disruptive advances in art: think what perspective did for the renaissance or how the portable oil tube enabled the impressionists to move outdoors and paint in natural light. So consider what a moment this is for artists as they embrace a new medium: the world of data.” He continued, “Artists are at the forefront of helping us see and understand data in altogether new ways. And the questions they ask help us process our collective anxiety and fascination with the phenomena of a pervasively instrumented world.”

Among the pieces DuBois will be showing in Aspen are “Hindsight is Always 20/20,” a 2008 piece that uses the familiar format of eye charts to present a statistical analysis of State of the Union Addresses throughout history, thus illuminating the rhetoric and priorities of our presidents, and “A More Perfect Union, a 2011 work for which he downloaded 16.7 million profiles from dating sites to analyze the words single Americans use to identify themselves.

DuBois, a popular and iconoclastic figure at NYU-Poly, said, “There’s a lot going on in Brooklyn over the summer, including the lead-up to the new MAGNET [Media and Games Network], so I missed being on campus.” Still, he found his time at Aspen exceptionally gratifying. “There’s a high concentration of interesting people there,” he said. “It was an incredible experience.”