How to make Big Data tangible in VR?

In this series of articles, we’re exploring how our work in immersive audio-visual experiences, data-driven artworks, and interactive art can translate to Virtual Reality.


Data-driven Artworks are one of FIELD’s key interests – Virtual Reality is bringing a new dimension to it.

Big Data has become a buzzword, and “software is eating the world” – as the things in our lives are becoming more abstract, visualising these new complexities is becoming increasingly relevant. Giving big data a tangible form is a necessity, to give access for example to the depth of information contained in sound, to the exponential development of financial markets, or the patterns of ideas spreading on social media.

We’ve created visual artworks driven by data for years – now we’re excited about the new dimension Virtual Reality is bringing to this area.
FIELD’s approach is focused on data dramatisation: translating data into expressive and emotional artworks, that bring back to life the dynamic processes it originally captured. In our experience, communicating the top-level correlations of big data sets, the dynamic of a complex system, or even just the sheer scale of correlations, is often more relevant for our understanding than providing detailed facts. We want to bring an abstract, numeric and machine-readable format, into a visualisation that is intuitive, narrative, expressive and emotional.

FIELD’s Forms of Finance is a series of digital sculptures that give shape to global financial market data. Sensing Speed for Maserati is an immersive film about the rush and adrenaline of acceleration, driven by sound and data recordings from a live Maserati Trofeo race. In Chorus, FIELD’s installation for the British Library’s Propaganda exhibition, we convey how ideas spread through social media using animated typographic patterns.

There are however, inherent limitations in the information that can be conveyed from a flat computer screen – even through the simple fact that screen sizes vary from mobile phones to big monitors. VR immerses the user in a digital space with a 360-degree field of vision, and simulates movement in three dimensions – it provides an incredible sense of scale for size, area or volume, in direct reference to our own body. When we talk about data, we often communicate in metaphors like “as big as 12 football fields.” Instead of requiring a cognitive step by using comparison, the reference is intuitive in VR. Naturally, it will still require expert knowledge to interpret complex data sets for scientific or professional analysis. But through VR we have the opportunity to interact with data, to recognise and interpret it on a dramatically and emotionally significant level.

A VR Film Experiment: Networks of the Human Brain

In an immersive VR film, we’re bringing an open source dataset from The Human Connectome Project to life. Glowing streams of colour visualise the major pathways of activity in the human brain; the patterns and behaviours that emerge within it, how many neural signals are going on at once – and how fascinating and beautiful our consciousness is.

Designed to be viewed with a VR headset for a fully immersive experience.