Ekene Ijeoma is a designer and artist. He explores the artistic and humanistic properties of data, transforming them in poetic and pragmatic ways to change how we understand our world. His interactive map The Refugee Project, about refugee migration around the world was nominated for and exhibited in Design Museum “Designs of the Year” 2015 in London. We asked him 5 questions about art, data, and discovery.
Data is such an important part of your art. How did your love of information begin and when did you start thinking of incorporating into your projects?
Growing up I lost at science fairs but won at art shows. Maybe there was too much art in my science? Either way every year I tried to do both because I liked making things with my hands. I think a lot of this can be seen through the interdisciplinary ways in which I practice art and design.
I started designing with data while doing a residency at Fabrica in Treviso, Italy in 2009–2010. I made a few data-driven interactive graphics in Java using Processing. One of the first was Census City, an app which I created to explore 2010 Census data as a 3D city of houses with floors and rooms based on the layers of the data. I used it to explore housing vacancy broken down by ethnicity and income after the foreclosure boom around 2008.
My favorite was another app I created to design a 3D heatmap of bike sharing programs around the world to show how global it had become. I used it to create a paper model for the Gearing Up for a Better World poster—commissioned for an exhibition at the Vignelli Center. We didn’t have a laser cutter or large printer so I had to draw and cut all the shapes by hand. I wrapped yarn around the peaks of the model to create a bicycle-like gear and chain system. I then spelled out “Bike sharing, gearing up for a better world” in hand-cut letters. It was the first time I designed something physical and handmade with code much like I did for Wage Islands. A lot of people think the model was 3D-printed but it’s made of over 500 hand-assembled laser-cut acrylic pieces.
You have such interesting ways of visualizing data. What is your ideation process like?
Most of my concepts start with life experiences rather than data studies. I use data to scale them up and different mediums and formats to get them out into the world.
What have been some of your most notable or favorite discoveries from creating your installations?
It’s great to live in a city with street-level access to so many cultures and lifestyles. I run and cycle a lot but just walking you can see refugees, minimum wage workers, and Pokémon Go players all within the same block. All my work has come from the people I’ve met in person through interacting with the city. From working on The Refugee Project a year before the European crisis to Look Up a few months before Pokemon Go, staying in tune with the rhythms of the city has been very foretelling.
What’s a project that you’re working on right now that you’re particularly excited about?
Expanding Look Up to iOS and to other cities like, DC, Boston, Chicago, SF, Seattle, Portland, Pittsburgh, Denver and Philadelphia—the top 10 most walkable cities where drivers and cyclists must have empathy to share the streets.
What are you hoping people will come away with after attending your talk?
You can catch Ekene’s talk on Friday, September 9 at 10:30 a.m. at CAM Raleigh. Be sure to check out the entire Hopscotch Design Festival lineup and visit the schedule page so you can plan out your festival. And if you haven’t already, make sure to buy tickets before they sell out.