Tele-Present Water is an installation by artist David Bowen. Using data pulled from a buoy in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, mechanical arms manipulate a flexible grid, causing it to rise and fall in concert with the waves, in effect, creating a automated puppet show based on a script generated by the ocean, half a planet away.
This is amazing for a bunch of reasons. First, it’s a 3-D data visualization, pulled out of a computer and made real. Watching it is hypnotic, like watching real waves. Except it’s this strange slice of the ocean, amputated from context and displayed in a museum.
Even more amazing are the things this piece reveals by being possible in the first place. The data is being collected in real time from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data buoy Station 46246. Station 46246 has its own web page. It’s not alone. Here are pages for its fellows 46240, 46249, and the dear, departed 46232.
This is a glimpse of what Erle Ellis calls the cyborg planet. As sensors get cheaper, and data transmission gets easier, we’re wiring the world, to tell us about itself. When people talk about the Internet of Things, this is part of what they’re talking about. The reason you have a buoy with a web page (and an RSS feed) is so that the buoy can tell ships and other interested parties about what’s going on without human intervention. It’s a world where a hypnotic art piece is just an interesting and very human side effect.