»Breaking the pattern« is a data-driven art piece, exploring the issue of »routine« gun violence in the city of Cleveland. It consists of a visual representation of temporal incidence patterns of gun violence. By exposing occurences of gun violence, the piece offers a new visual vocabulary and perspective on an issue which many people have come to accept as a deterministic reality in an unsafe urban environment in which gun violence has become the background noise and soundtrack to people’s daily lives.
The main piece is an algorithmically-generated image displaying all days in 2018, in which different forms of gun violence (i.e. shots fired, gun injuries, gun deaths) have been reported in the city, based on near real time data from the Gun Violence Archive. Each square represents a single day in 2018, starting with 1 January on the top left corner and ending on 10 November at the bottom right. Each day with reported gun violence is highlighted in a different shade of blue, according to the type of incidence, with darker hues indicating more or heavier gun violence.
»Breaking the pattern« proposes to »paint with data« as an alternative way of understanding the issue of gun violence. Traditional representations often fail to capture fragile experiences and reduce human stories to »machine-readable« numbers. Individual tragedies become mere clinical observations and body counts. This is an attempt to move beyond data’s utility as a simple source of information towards an understanding of it as a material resource which can be used to create a picture relating to real experiences.
This piece intentionally blurs the boundaries between individual acts of gun violence across place and time, which cannot be understood as isolated and discrete events in a neighborhood, but rather as a contagious cascade. Every incident of gun violence triggers a physical and mental chain reaction among affected families and communities which bear the burden of accumulated trauma. A constant feeling of stress is the result in people’s lives. The generated image seeks to capture this chaos and pressure through a flickering noise effect, creating a sensory experience of uneasiness and permanent background disturbance.
While grounded in real data, the piece is generative in nature, meaning that it introduces a certain amount of randomness and noise to derail the obvious temporal patterns, thus creating a new image at each time it is viewed. This means the image will look a little bit different each time it is viewed, thereby reflecting each person’s individual experience and story with gun violence, stress and trauma.
This piece is a first step in an attempt to create a visual representation and deeper understanding of gun violence in American cities as as a public health phenomenon, rather than a public safety issue.
While the piece in its current form focuses on the city of Cleveland in the year 2018, gun violence is - unfortunately - not confined to this city, but a nationwide issue. The project will reflect this by adding data for other cities and other time periods in the future in order to compare patterns across space and time. If you are interested in collaboration, please do not hesitate to get in touch or send feedback.
In the future, the piece will also be expanded to include people’s experiences with gun violence and connect those stories to individual data points seen in the visual representation. This is a living experiment and I welcome interested parties to explore new ways of thinking about and communicating the issue with me.
The piece is on public display as a 8-minute video installation on the Cleveland Institute of Art’s digital mesh screen (11610 Euclid Ave) from 12 - 29 November 2018. 8 minutes is the average response time of a Cleveland police unit to a 911 call that involve »shots fired«.
Alsino Skowronnek is a Berlin-based data artist and maker of visual things. He has worked for organizations around the world, always at the intersection of data visualization and socioeconomic issues. Amongst others, he has collaborated with Google, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and VICE.