International artist Ingo Günther's exhibition, World Processor, has just opened at the Hood Downtown. Think of it as Art marrying Big Data, creating a sea of illuminated globes, an ongoing project for Günther since 1989. In this show, dozens of his hundreds of globes have been selected for your inspection.
Depending on your ability to absorb mass quantities of data, or maybe better stated as specific data points about a mass of 50 or so diverse topics, you may want to pace yourself. For the moment, this is an exhibition that I am taking in small bites.
Two lessons, then, from this past, still-wintery Sunday afternoon. The first is about sex and life expectancy. Don't we think we know that women live longer than men? Günther gives you the facts overlaid on a glowing red globe. (Featured photo, above) Women do have longer life expectancies, but the degree of difference from their male counterparts depends on where they live. See what Günther's work says about Russia (below).
Space exploration? Another globe, below, will tell you about rocket launch sites--active, inactive, and proposed. Those that are represented as outlined, rather than solid, forms are sites that are intended mostly for space tourism. Note the lyrical Cape Breton and . . . is that Sheboygan?
Rocket Launch Sites, 2011
Günther's work no doubt carries deeper messages, but I imagine that at a minimum he is hoping to pique curiosity levels about the world in which we find ourselves. He has said, "I've seen people interact with the globes as if they were having a conversation. Maybe that's wishful thinking?" I was one of those that could have been caught conversing, even if silently.
The exhibition sent me home compelled to learn more. Apparently, both Günther and my iPad search engine know more than I do about Sheboygan, Wisconsin. As soon as I typed in the city's name, it auto-filled the term "rocket." A sample headline: Sheboygan wants to be big cheese in space. Wisconsin town sets sights on strange new world of astro-tourism. I said out loud what I had repeated many times in my head during my visit at the Hood: Who knew? Of how many other things are we ignorant? And under what circumstances--and how--might a lack of knowledge matter?
On the subject of life expectancy, my own research taught me about the unknowable: according to the World Health Organization's website, 53% or more of deaths in the world are not even reported. What mysteries lay in that lack of data? The Russian Federation continues to hold the record for disparity in life expectancy based on sex, one that seems to be widening even further. Overall global life expectancy is 71.4 years and increasing almost everywhere (some recent stats show a decline in the US); in wealthy Western countries like Switzerland it is 80 years. Japanese women live the longest--87 years. Sub-Saharan Africa has almost no difference based on sex, but life expectancy for both men and women is shockingly low--around 49 years.
It caused me think of a line from Mary Oliver's poem, A Summer Day: "What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" And to ponder the privilege that comes with being able even to ask the question.
(World Processor runs through May 28 at the Hood Downtown Exhibition Space at 53 Main Street in Hanover NH. It is free and open to the public, Wednesday through Saturday from 11:00 a.m to 7:00 p.m., Sunday 1:00 p.m to 5 p.m.)
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Susan B. Apel, writer, ArtfulEdge