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Kim Albrecht

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For over a decade, I have investigated the aesthetic properties of data. My practice uses design to delve into the intersections of technology and culture. Since the summer of 2023, I've held a professorship at Film University Babelsberg Konrad Wolf, teaching and researching in the Masters Program Creative Technologies as well as Digital Media Cultures and Media Studies. My academic background includes studies in graphic design, interface design, and a PhD in Media Theory. My professional journey has led me to work as a data visualization researcher at the Center for Complex Network Research alongside Laszlo Barabasi. I've also held the title of principal at metaLAB (at) Harvard with Jeffrey Schnapp, and in 2021, I established metaLAB (at) FU Berlin with Annette Lehmann. Additionally, I am affiliated with the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

Among others, my work has been exhibited at the Harvard Art Museums, Four Domes Pavilion Wrocław, Ars Electronica, Cooper Hewitt New York, ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, Kestner Gesellschaft, The Wrong Biennial, Istanbul Contemporary Art Museum, and Kunsthaus Graz. Additionally, the ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, Ars Electronica Center, and the Cooper Hewitt have included my works in their permanent collections. Although I occasionally work in journalistic contexts with organizations like the BBC, Die Zeit, and Quanta Magazine, more frequently, news outlets such as FastCompany, Wired Magazine, the Economist, Scientific American, Science, and Nature, among others, report about my work.

Apart from research and artistic projects, teaching has become an increasingly important part of my practice. Engaging with students in critical, artistic practices concerning technology at large and data in specific, in relation to cultural and natural systems, occupies a significant portion of my time today. Currently, my primary engagement is with the Film University, but I have previously taught at Harvard University, University of Applied Sciences Potsdam, Strelka Institute, and Muthesius Kunsthochschule.

Within the aforementioned boundaries, my body of work bridges the realms of science, humanities, arts, and journalism, consistently integrating themes of technology and culture. This statement serves as a testament to my research endeavors and areas of interest.

Investigative Design

I perceive Investigative Design as a method of exploring socio-political issues through the aesthetic lens of data visualization. Early in my career, I embarked on projects such as mapping all known billionaires in 2012 and visually probing the 17 km (10.5 miles) stretch of Voortrekker Road in Cape Town, South Africa. In partnership with the Goethe Institute, I charted migration and ethnic identity as fluid, culturally crafted processes in the 2016 project, Cultural Interflow. After Donald Trump's inauguration as U.S. president in February 2017, I mapped Tumps connections to over 1,500 individuals and organizations. The tragic death of George Floyd in 2020 spurred me to visualize over 28,000 fatal encounters with the U.S. police spanning two decades. From 2020 to 2021, I analyzed 30 million tweets carrying the hashtag #metoo and related. Another notable collaboration with the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center led to a visual record of 240 Black Lives Matter street murals across the U.S. The inaugural project of metaLAB (at) FU Berlin, B4 Tomorrow, probed into the material culture of the Eyak and Sugpiaq peoples from the Chugach Region of Alaska, now housed in the Ethnologisches Museum Berlin. These endeavors harness design as an artistic tool to inspect varied socio-political subjects, from wealth distribution, cultural identity, and social movements to archival critique and data-driven inquiries into colonialism.

Complexity & Networks

Both my bachelor's and master's theses delved into network visualizations. My MA thesis, in particular, fostered an attraction to visualizing temporal networks. I view networks as emblematic of the 21st century, underlying everything from the internet, social media, machine learning & artificial intelligence to cryptocurrencies. But this symbol extends beyond technology, resonating with natural systems, social constellations, and even the vast cosmos. My tenure at the Center for Complex Network Science was marked by projects like visualizing algorithms predicting popularity by performance, represent the vast structures of the universe, showcased the unpredictability of scientific citations, and analyzed governments through their online footprint spanning 32.5 million web pages. Furthermore, I brought to life historical communication networks with over 120,000 letters from the Tudor era. My exploration also ventured into network structures in the art sphere, particularly the gaps between art history narratives and Wikipedia entries. My intrigue with mapping temporal network structures also finds a voice on this website.

Recently, my research direction has transformed. More than just depicting network structures, I've delved into the complexities of data, its impact on our network-centric perspective, and alternative approaches to transcend the dominant network society framework. While the Post_Networks distinctly showcases this transition, I'll provide a more detailed exploration in the subsequent segment.

Data Aesthetics & Media Reflexivity

At the commencement of my Ph.D. in media theory and during my research tenure at metaLAB (at) Harvard in 2017, I gravitated away from solely using data visualization to depict phenomena about the world. Data, at its core, comprises electrical signals traversing through silicon. It remains elusive to human direct experience, always necessitating some form of aesthetic representation, whether as spreadsheets, databases, visualizations, sonifications, theater performances, or other modalities. Furthermore, the very act of generating data is culturally charged, constraining our comprehension of the world to specific, methodical, and recurring methods of capture. Consequently, data representations are mediated at least twich: first, in the transition from the world to data and, second, from data to its aesthetic manifestation. This seemingly simple dyadic model often unravels into a more intricate web, introducing statistical, cultural, and technological layers.

In my presentations, lectures, and public appearances, I frequently discuss how the act of datafication and visualization inherently influences the subject under scrutiny. Representation methods profoundly matter. Over time, my intrigue shifted from merely visualizing entities to emphasizing the processes that underpin data and image creation. Within these media-reflective approaches, I am less captivated by visualizing specific attributes, phenomena, or events. Instead, my focus leans toward contemplating the genesis of images, their underlying data structures, algorithmic frameworks, operations, computations, and materialities.

Data doesn't merely describe our world—it shapes it.

Projects that align with this perspective often have a central theme. Yet, a reflection on their creation process is equally, if not more, vital. Artificial Senses was likely the inaugural work in this reflective domain. It featured tablets arranged in a space, visualizing real-time data from their inbuilt sensors. The Hairs of Your Head are Numbered marked my initial collaboration with the theater group Doublelucky Productions. Using sensor gloves, we tracked the audience, transforming the space into a live visualization of audience-derived data. In 2019, a subsequent collaboration with Doublelucky Productions birthed True You, an exploration of affective computing and truth-seeking machines.

During my Ph.D., I became captivated by the inner workings of computational logic and its potential boundaries. Distinction Machine was an aesthetic exploration of this fascination, where I visualized algorithms that, while logically correct, lacked comprehensive instructions for machines to depict the results. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic ushered in an era of ubiquitous online video calls. Disconcerted by the digitization of all human interactions, I initiated Hypercam, a project that manipulates video signals, wrapping, mirroring, distorting, and multiplying them. Watching Machines Loving Grace is a generative artwork exhibited at the Harvard Art Museums, spotlighting unwanted parts of facial recognition software. Everything operates within a context, yet computational systems, especially in the sphere of machine learning and broader AI, often sideline context in favor of computation.

Post_Networks illuminates the patterns created by force-directed algorithms, a prevalent method for network visualization. Shifting the focus from the network to the computational process presents an entirely distinct image. In 2022, with the public introduction of ChatGPT, I delved into its data-generation capabilities. After posing 1,764 prompts to GPT-3.5, the accumulated knowledge was organized into Artificial Worldviews. In Data Decay, I probe the chasm between tangible reality and data conceptualization. Everything in the world undergoes change – I age, shoes wear out, trees shed leaves only to blossom again. However, data possesses a binary state: it either exists or doesn't. Unlike tangible entities, digital data doesn't degrade, say, from exposure to sunlight. While this digital permanence offers certain advantages, it concurrently engenders social and ecological challenges.

Philosophy of design

Beyond visualization and mapping, my ardor for design theory and its written exploration has burgeoned. I've grappled with the philosophical question of design's relation to world knowledge for over five years, a journey that began during my Ph.D. and persists. Writing has emerged as another medium I've come to cherish alongside graphics, coding, and data. Throughout the years, I've contributed essays, papers, and book chapters that encapsulate these reflections, seeking to delve deeper into the essence of design and its implications for our understanding of the world.