Fool: A Data Love Story

Published in NUI Galway's Cois Coiribe, ‘AI and Human Creativity’ edition 2021/22.

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What does your data shadow look like? How does it intersect with your relationships and everyday life? These are the questions raised by artists Margaux Smith and Meadhbh McNutt in A Data Love Story. Through visualisation and narration, Margaux and Meadhbh tell the story of a romantic relationship through the lens of linguistic data, based on texts shared between Meadhbh and her boyfriend, Eimhin across two fortnight periods.

A Data Love Story is part of a larger collaboration stemming from a shared concern with the assumed neutrality of data. Data is extracted, mined and valued in line with human (often corporate or political) interest. Our personal experiences are increasingly mediated by technological tools, but our data is rarely accessible (seen, understood, or used) by those who produce it constantly and unconsciously. 


In A Data Love Story, we take an approach of curiosity to our own data. Do the words we exchange with romantic partners still have resonance when they are extracted, quantified, exchanged across continents and represented as data visualisations? Or, does this process render them inert? 

In spring 2021, Meadhbh went through a break up, and Margaux suggested the idea of a linguistic analysis, looking at text message samples from different phases of the relationship. Margaux approached the concept with a detached curiosity, while Meadhbh was unsure about the emotional consequences. Later in the year, Meadhbh met someone new and the idea to collaborate reemerged in a totally new context. The images below draw from a living love story, unfolding in real time. Meadhbh and Eimhin were curious to see their lives interpreted and mirrored by a distant analyst. Can a person on another continent, far removed from the details of the relationship, find meaning in studying linguistic patterns (verbs, adjectives and nouns)? 

Mining data from texts exchanged across two fortnight periods, Meadhbh began to share information with Margaux, documenting the process in a creative text titled Steps to Construct a Data Story. Health problems disrupted the linearity of this process. Little resistances of the body and possibilities for human error are present throughout the text. Similarly, the tactile details of Margaux’s visualisations highlight the subjective nature of data analysis.