“Data_Sea” by Michael Takeo Magruder, Drew Baker and David Steele

Turbulence Artists’ Studios: “Data_Sea” by Michael Takeo Magruder, with Drew Baker and David Steele
and at Thinktank Planetarium and Futures Gallery (Birmingham, UK)

The televised broadcast of the Berlin Olympics in 1936 was humanity’s first media transmission powerful enough to pass through Earth’s ionosphere and travel into deep space. From that point in time our signals have radiated into the universe, creating an ever-expanding globe referred to as Earth’s Radiosphere. In the 73 years since that defining moment, our communications have reached nearly two thousand other known star systems.

“Data_Sea” is a real-time virtual environment based upon this relationship between broadcast media and astronomy. The core geometry of the artwork is directly derived from the actual positions of all catalogued star systems residing within the Radiosphere. Obtained from current astronomical databases such as the Hipparcos star catalogue, these scientific measurements have been translated into a three-dimensional structure constructed in VRML (Virtual Reality Modelling Language).

Each star system’s basic properties affect its aesthetic manifestation within the virtual realm. Star type is represented by shape, with normal stars appearing as full spheres, ‘failed’ stars (brown dwarfs) as incomplete spheres and ‘dead’ stars (white dwarfs) as compressed crosses. The stellar nodes are connected to a central spherical body (representing our solar system) by line structures that are coloured according to spectral class of the individual stars. Systems that are known to contain exoplanets are surrounded by concentric ring structures.

Live media from the BBC world news service is streamed into the environment. The virtual elements are textured with images from today’s events, while layers of live audiocasts are blended into a persistent soundscape. These mediated reflections of the present are in constant flux, forever shifting as they drift into an endless sea of virtual space.

“Data_Sea” is a Thinktank production for the International Year of Astronomy 2009. The project was made possible with funds from Arts Council England and generous support from King’s Visualisation Lab, Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King’s College London and ParallelGraphics.


Michael Takeo Magruder is an artist and researcher in King’s Visualisation Lab, King’s College London. His work uses emerging technologies, including high-performance computing, mobile devices and virtual environments, blending Information Age technologies with modernist aesthetics to explore the formal structures and conceptual paradigms of the networked, digital world. His work has been showcased in over 200 exhibitions in 30 countries, including the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, EAST International 2005, Georges Pompidou Center, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography and Trans-Media-Akademie Hellerau. His work also regularly appears in international New Media festivals such as Cybersonica, CYNETart, FILE,
Filmwinter, Rencontres Internationales, SeNef, Siggraph, Split, VAD and WRO. His artistic practice has been funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Arts Council England, The National Endowment for the Arts, USA and public galleries in the UK and abroad, as well as by commissions from leading Internet Art portals Turbulence.org and Soundtoys.net.

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