Stephen Cartwright earned a BA in Studio Art from the University of California, Davis in 1996 and an MFA in Sculpture from Tyler School of Art in 1998. He was a visiting assistant professor in the Sculpture department at Virginia Commonwealth University from 2005-08. From 2008-2019 he served as an assistant and then associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He also served for a time as the Associate Director at the School of Art and Design at Illinois. Cartwright exhibits and speaks about his work widely. Recent activities include solo exhibitions at Fermilab National Laboratory and Rockford University, and group shows at the Pizzuti Collection of the Columbus Museum of Art and the University of Richmond Museum. Recent lecture venues include the Quantified Self Global Conference, Amsterdam, and Technarte, Bilbao. Cartwright lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“Big data” is a phrase that conjures up all the optimism of new technology and at the same time all the perils. Whether we like it or not, our lives are affected by the data streams we create through commerce, health, and simply living.
Artist Stephen Cartwright spends a lot of time thinking about how we understand and visualize all that data. He meticulously records personal information and gathers data from international science and humanitarian organizations to create beautiful sculptures. The data sculptures are simultaneously ethereal and substantial; they take extremely specific form, but do not always reveal all their details, instead they evoke landscapes, molecules, and webs that cause us to think about life’s interconnectedness.
Cartwright has particular interest in the climate and landscape and how they shape our human movements. To explore these relationships, he has recorded his exact latitude and longitude every hour for more than 20 years, mapped family, ancestors, and migrant movements over time, and visualized weather patterns. Cartwright can work directly with individuals and companies to create bespoke works derived from their data.
Cosmic Bodies investigates the invisible forces that hold the universe together and connect everything within it. For this series, Stephen Cartwright draws on astronomical databases to plot the orbits, trajectories, and apparent motions of cosmic objects, including comets, asteroids, and stars. In a complex process, Cartwright integrates the data into drawings and uses digital and traditional fabrication methods to create the work. Although there are potentially thousands of objects covering vast distances in the databases and in these works, they represent only a tiny fraction of the material in the universe. Likewise, each person is just a tiny fraction of all that is out there but is connected to everything else.
My work exists at the confluence of science and art, where hard data intersects with the intangible complexities of human experience. I create sculptures, drawings, animations, and installations derived from data and information. This information includes personally recorded data sets like my location every hour, mileage from several modes of transport, spending, and weather conditions. Additionally, I use information gathered by public and international organizations.
My Latitude and Longitude Project, initiated June 21, 1999, records my exact position and elevation every hour using GPS. I have collected and cataloged more than 200,000 locations of my body in space and time. The conscious action of documenting my position heightens my awareness of place, geography, landscape and routine. As I live, I record my seemingly insignificant track as details of my trajectory multiply to reveal patterns, intersections and irregularities and begin to define a life.
The emphasis of my recent work has become more universal in nature, with source material including: weather, climate, human migration, and population demographics. I am investigating large phenomena that are consequential to our lives and trying to understand and track their impact on our lives. I have a special interest in the movement of people and groups, and how they navigate the world. Collected data serves as concrete evidence against shifting personal perceptions. We are all immersed in geographic, social, and cultural systems and I translate these subjective experiences into tangible artworks. Beautiful topographies emerge from the data we generate.