News Release

UVA Data Art Competition draws more than 130 submissions and announces winners

Grant and Award Announcement

University of Virginia School of Data Science

Data has the power to tell captivating stories and reveal hidden insights, often in aesthetically compelling ways.

In celebration of this, the University of Virginia’s School of Data Science hosted an art competition to commemorate the opening of its new building and to invite participants from all over the world to tell unique stories by transforming raw data into art. The School received more than 130 submissions from nine countries, far exceeding expectations for an inaugural competition.

After selecting eight finalists from a wide range of artistic formats, the winners were announced during a presentation and award ceremony in the School’s new building, including the grand prize award of $5,000 presented to two student artists from The New School in New York City. Honorable mentions were given to a UVA alumnus and a Charlottesville-based artist.

The competition challenged artists to create visually striking and thought-provoking data-inspired visualizations. Entries needed to present information that not only evoked emotion but captured the underlying essence of the data. Artists were encouraged to think outside the box, experiment with innovative design techniques, use mixed media, and push the boundaries of data visualization.

Alex Gates, assistant professor of data science, chaired the competition and invited three judges experienced in data visualization and media arts to evaluate the entries: Stephen Baek, Yoon Chung Han, and Mona Kasra.

“Our event aimed to empower storytelling at the intersection of data science and artistic expression, encouraging innovative multimedia that resonate with audiences,” Gates said.

The selected eight finalists exemplified the competition’s theme: “Our World.” Three finalists were student submissions, including “Stained Underwear,” which won the grand prize.

The kinetic installation by Julia Daser and Pepi Ng from The New School portrays the labor and resources invested in menstruation. Through the intimate lens of personal period data, the installation challenges societal taboos, bringing the hidden realities of menstruation into the public conversation. The installation includes a video demonstrating their data process and a mechanical arm with sink replicating hand-washing underwear during menstruation.

Other works ranged from a graphite-on-paper spiral representation of the air quality index rating of Los Angeles over four decades (“LA AQI: 1980-2024”), which won honorable mention, by local artist Steve Haske to a multimedia composition using oyster reef data by Matthew Burtner, a University of Virginia music professor (“Reef Generations”).

Competition organizers also polled the public for a People’s Choice Award, collecting more than 800 votes. The winner of the award, who was also selected for an honorable mention, is a real-time generative and data art installation (“Nebulae”) designed for the Charlottesville environment. Peter Cybriwsky, a 2019 UVA graduate in computer science, intends for the piece to visualize often overlooked or nebulous environmental changes in the city, including brightness, humidity, temperature, pressure, and CO2 levels.

At the event, Cybriwsky said he was “excited” to have his work on display, which included installing sensors on the building’s roof, and “to celebrate with all the other artists” who entered the competition.  

The award ceremony was open to the public and kicked off with a welcome from Dean Phil Bourne, who noted how the event embodied the “holistic” approach the School of Data Science takes to the field, with a focus on how data “impacts the humanities, social sciences, and the arts.”

“The Data is Art competition and exhibit is really a reflection of that,” he said.

The event included a feature presentation by Refik Anadol, who joined remotely from his studio in California. Anadol is an internationally renowned media artist, director, and pioneer in the aesthetics of machine intelligence. His presentation was vibrantly projected onto the building’s two-story Capital One Hub screen. He discussed his artistic vision and creative process, using his new collection on nature models as examples.

“Technology allows us to imagine and find, hopefully, the language of humanity,” Anadol said.

Combining data analysis with artistic expression has been a priority in design efforts for the new home of the School of Data Science, which held its grand opening last month.

The first commissioned art piece for the building is a data sculpture designed by SoSo Limited and built by Hypersonic. It hangs from a skylight and can be viewed from every floor and every angle of the building’s central staircase. 

The piece was designed as a column of 20 casements, with data flowing vertically through LED lights up the length of the approximately 40-foot-tall sculpture. Visitors can choose a data set from an interactive screen and then view the story in a visually compelling way. The data sculpture aims to transform the atrium into an area where data is not just analyzed but also experienced.

The School of Data Science intends to hold future data art competitions, as well as utilize the exhibition space for regional artist showcases and collaborations with K-12 art programs. The eight finalists’ work will remain on display in the new School of Data Science building through the end of the calendar year. The public is encouraged to visit, explore the open spaces, and interact with the art on display and the data science sculpture.

If you are interested in learning how to participate, contact datascience@virginia.edu.


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