Left of field
Baden Pailthorpe spent six months combing through data collected from a single game of AFL to create 'Clanger', a digital sculpture that blurs the lines between data science and art.
Any AFL fan worth their salt knows the term ‘clanger’ means an extremely bad mistake made during play. For artist Baden Pailthorpe, “it’s sort of like another word for glitch”. That’s what makes Clanger the ideal word to describe his latest exhibition which turns the complexities of game data into art, and practical workshops for data visualisation students too.
There’s nothing like a stadium crowd in the final minutes of a match. Roaring with one voice, jumping, chanting and screaming as one undulating entity. Fans feed off this palpable energy – and so do the athletes on the field.
While data on the players’ games are gathered, dissected, and probed for insights to enhance performance, the influence of the crowd can be somewhat overlooked. Enter Baden Pailthorpe, artist and 2017 Synapse resident with UTS Sport and Exercise Science.
Baden spent six months working at Moore Park with Distinguished Professor of Sport and Exercise Science Aaron Coutts. He spent the time combing through data collected from a single game of AFL – Sydney Swans versus Carlton in round 23, 2017. From this, Baden has developed Clanger. The UTS Gallery exhibition explores the tension between the crowd and the players and offers new and experimental ways to display and interpret data.
“The premise of the project was to find a way to quantify something that’s quite obvious to anyone who’s ever been to a big sporting match but is really hard to actually measure,” says Baden.
“Academically,” adds Aaron, “there is some literature about the influence of the crowd on performance, especially the home ground crowd. But Baden has worked to capture the emotions and visceral aspects of the game – and we can’t measure that.”
That being said, almost every other aspect of every game and every player is measured. Aaron explains: “We work with micro-technology – about half the size of your mobile phone – that we put in all the players' jerseys between the shoulder blades.
“We use that to measure how far they run, where they run, when they do it, and at what speeds, in order to understand the physical demands of sport, to inform training programs and manage injury risks.”
With each player making about 90,000 data points in one game, Baden has combined this information with audio recordings of the crowd and drone photogrammetry (a technique for creating 3D models from photographs) to capture the space, movement and atmosphere of the match. The result is 36 3D “digital sculptures” (that’s one for each player on the field) created by mapping players’ longitude, latitude and velocity in the game. The artworks are amorphous shifting models of performance.
Opposite these 36 player representations is a large projection of a similar model that uses the decibels from the crowd as the main data source as well as an immersive animation of the inside of the stadium.
“It’s left of field for me, as a scientist,” says Aaron (he admits he half expected Baden to arrive with an easel and paint). “But he’s created art out of the information we collect and there’s a high level of computer science involved in what he does. It’s not something I had ever thought of before but looking at problems from an artistic perspective gave me a whole different point of view and understanding of ways to solve problems.”
This approach is something UTS Art Coordinator Learning and Projects Alice McAuliffe is keen to emphasise. “Creativity is a difficult concept to define, yet we often identify it as an intended graduate attribute of UTS students.
“Artists have skills in lateral problem solving, idea generation and conceptual thinking; by giving students the chance to work through a collaborative task with a professional artist who has knowledge of their area of study, students can learn and test practical creative skills, possibly applying them to their future professions.”
That’s why, in addition to Clanger, Baden has also collaborated with the Faculty of Transdisciplinary Innovation to deliver a workshop for the subject Data Visualisation and Narrative. It’s part of the Master of Data Science and Innovation. Over the teaching session students build professional portfolios via blogging, get involved in authentic data challenges and craft data stories in different formats. Course Coordinator Roberto Martinez-Maldonado explains, “Almost anyone can use a visualisation tool to start plotting some data. This subject is for our students to develop the skills to become data storytellers that can communicate insights effectively to different audiences.”
Data storytelling is the bridge between humans and data science. What is more human than art?
Dr Roberto Martinez-Maldonado
“It’s about getting students to think more critically and creatively about data sets in general,” says Baden. “By showing the kinds of things I do, they can see how data can be interrogated or used, or even try to think about the ways that things might fall through the gaps in the data that isn’t collected in a certain kind of process, what might influence the collection and what might influence the interpretation.”
Roberto agrees: “Baden’s artistic perspective brings a totally different point of view for students to consider aesthetic principles of data visualisation. Whilst the subject learning outcomes don’t necessarily target art, data storytelling is a transdisciplinary endeavour.”
When reflecting on Clanger, Baden says, “In some ways it’s strange that the audio from the crowd, and the data from the players created these really organic forms, but at the same time it’s not that surprising when you think about the fact that both sources of data were the human body in different forms.”
Whereas sports data scientists collect stats around velocity, rotation and clangers to explain human error, Baden observes that “in creative practice we kind of embrace that error as an opportunity rather than something that needs to be adjusted to or accounted for.”
And that just might be the key to it all, says Roberto. “Data storytelling is the bridge between humans and data science. What is more human than art?”
Clanger is on show at UTS Gallery from 1 May to 22 June. Find out more at art.uts.edu.au