Meet An Artist Who Turns Data Into 3-D Displays

Layers of facts, rules, and human data sets inform the work of Willem Besselink.

We’re deep in the midst of a data viz heyday. Infographics are ubiquitous, presenting facts and data sets in straightforward ways that are, by design, easy to understand. Willem Besselink takes a different approach by translating directed sets of information into physical forms. What’s not explicit, however, are the complex stats that inspire each work.


Each new installation is dictated by its own unique guidelines and rules, which themselves are based on a number of dependent variables, including site-specifics, materials, color scheme, and budget. “Setting these up and following them all through the project allows–or forces–me to do what needs to be done,” he says, in part following the lead of “hero” Sol Lewitt’s Sentences on Conceptual Art.

The Dutch artist became intrigued by the creative potential inherent in data during art school. “I started developing works that were based on ‘true’ facts: geometry, optical illusions, science,” he tells Co.Design. “I wanted to block the influence directed by my emotions. At the same time, being a visual artist is about establishing a personal view towards the things around you.”

That tension between objective and subjective runs throughout his portfolio. Besselink tracked his sleep patterns for months at a time and turned them into light boxes; counted visitors to a museum in Delft and showed each as a brightly hued helium balloon; and programmed an aluminum sphere to expand and contract to represent a person’s respiration while reciting a poem.

“One basic thing–the most important aspect of my work–is that it should have a tangible appearance. It should be present in the analogue world,” he underscores. First comes the “visual bang,” followed by closer examination of the construction itself; the final layer is the reveal, or explanation, of the initial data sets. “It should not be necessary to present those with the work, but it might make the art itself more interesting.”