Go Deeper

Data of the Everyday: Interview with Brian House, WetLand resident artist

Posted July 15th, 2014

“As painful as it sometimes is, I think waking up is the most beautiful part—those few moments where everything is a little unfamiliar.”

Brian House. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Brian House. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Starting on August 15th, Mary Mattingly‘s WetLand, a floating, self-sustaining ecosystem on the Delaware River, will open to the public as part of the 2014 Fringe Festival. WetLand will include living and performance spaces, gardens, a water filtration system, and potentially a beehive and chickens. In addition to hosting dozens of artistic and environmental events, WetLand will be home to a rotating cast of resident artists who will work and live on the barge.

One of these residents, Brian House, is a media artist who manipulates data to look deeply at our unique patterns of living. His recent projects include Forty-Eight to Sixteen, in which the logistics of a bike ride are transformed into music, and Tanglr, a Google Chrome extension that virtually connects two anonymous browsers. House currently teaches at the Digital + Media program at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Below, he discusses his plans for his residency and how WetLand‘s ethos will interact with his own.

FringeArts: What do you plan to work on during your residency at WetLand?

Brian House: I’m not entirely sure at this point, but it will likely involve music composition. Mary’s previous project, Flock House, inspired me to make some sensors for her structures that measured the rhythms of activity inside. I’m interested in perhaps doing something similar, but this time through purely low-tech methods of observation, and I think that could feed in to the composition process. When I say ‘rhythms’ it could really be anything—the daily life cycles of the inhabitants, the weather, visitors, city noise, etc.

FringeArts: Has the tension between public and private space has been a subject of your work in the past?

Brian House: Yes, definitely this has come up with many of my projects. These terms sound simple at first, but are actually very difficult to pin down. What constitutes a ‘public’? What are the boundaries of the ‘private’? In a world where it’s not unreasonable to expect Google satellites to look into your backyard, seeds and DNA are patentable, and we walk down the street immersed in our own cellphone worlds, these things are shifty, and I’d almost rather avoid definitions. In the past, I’ve used text messaging to change the context of your surroundings (Hundekopf), built simple appliances that eavesdrop (Conversnitch), and made secure platforms for sharing data (OpenPaths). As far as living in ‘public’ space, as on WetLand, however, that is new territory. 

FringeArts: Why do you think it is necessary to investigate the mundane and quotidian?

Brian House: I think that all politics are rooted in the everyday. The core of who we are as individuals and who we are as a society ultimately emerges from small gestures, so it’s always an important site of poetry and contention. And as painful as it sometimes is, I think waking up is the most beautiful part—those few moments where everything is a little unfamiliar.

Brian's work, Quotidian Record, 2012. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Brian’s work, Quotidian Record, 2012. Photo courtesy of the artist.

FringeArts: Much of your work utilizes technology. How will WetLand‘s close-to-the-earth philosophy interact with your own aesthetic?

Brian House: Good question, I’m not sure. But I’m not wedded to technology as an aesthetic, per se. Boats and gardens are certainly also kinds of technology, and a kind of media, so I think there is a lot to explore.

FringeArts: Living on WetLand will involve working actively to eat and drink and live. Do you think it is important for us to be involved in our own nourishment?

Brian House: I’m largely skeptical of technology, even as I am embedded in it, and so my work is intended to reflect that uneasy embrace. In an ideal world, I’d love to have a good understanding of all the systems I interact with on a daily basis. In an urban and globalized world, that’s not really possible. But we can create functional metaphors of our interdependencies, which is how I see Mary’s work.

Any chance to work within a limited environment offers a lot of learning potential, to get a better understanding of what we need and what we can produce, so I’m game. And I think it’s critical that that’s a hands-on, embodied kind of thing. Technology, of whatever sort, can do many things, but it can’t let us know how something feels.

FringeArts: Some of your work involves turning raw data into a different mode, often putting it to music. Why is data not enough?

Brian House: Data is always interpreted, it never sits on its own. It’s sampled within a context, and it’s represented within a context. For me, music is a means of generating a visceral experience that undermines some of the “truth” we might hope to find in data, to make it a little more contingent and a little more fun.

Thank you, Brian!

Brian will be living on WetLand with fellow artists Miriam Simun and Mary Mattingly from August 25th through August 30th. WetLand will be free and open to the public from August 15th through September 21st.

Independence Seaport Museum Pier
211 South Columbus Blvd (at Dock St)
Aug 15­–Sept 21, 10:00am–5:00pm (ongoing)
More information:


—Abby Holtzman