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Confessions of a

Recovering Data Collector

& I had a love-hate relationship with data collecting. I found it laborious, frustrating and chore-like, but at the same time compelling, addictive and almost impossible to give up.


Introduction On 1st August 2006 Ellie Harrison announced that she had quit ‘data collecting’. No longer would she undertake the timeconsuming, self-imposed projects which both attempted to document, but also plagued, her daily life and routine. No longer would she have to apologise to friends, disrupt meal times and other social situations whilst photographing herself eating (Eat 22 p.18) or noting down the swear words that she uttered (Swear Box 2005 p.32). No more introspection and no more using the ‘material’ of her own daily life to generate data and produce artwork. Following this shock decision, Ellie found herself in a two-year period of limbo – recovering from the demands of data collecting and searching for a new way forward. It was during this period of reflection that she discovered what is known as Hysterical– Historical Praxis Therapy, which was to become the core focus of her recuperation and rehabilitation. Before Ellie entered as a patient, she confided in me as a fellow artist and peer, confessing that she hoped the therapy would enable her to ‘stop making work about myself and start making work about the world’ and to ‘develop a healthier relationship with my practice and become a better artist’. Ellie’s decision to quit data collecting was cumulative – provoked by the increasing demands and pressure of each and every project that she undertook. In 2002, she began Gold Card Adventures (p.20), a project where she meticulously recorded and calculated the total distance she travelled on London Transport in a year (9,236 kilometres). This fascination with numbers led to the piece Statistics Are Hot Air (p.30), a colour-coded vinyl bar chart visualising the exact quantity of ‘gaseous emissions’ she produced daily throughout 2003. Then in 2006 Ellie began Tea Blog (p.36), where for three years she attempted to record ‘subjective data’ detailing what she was thinking about every time she had a cup of tea. At the end of each project, Ellie, consciously or not, appeared to push herself and the possibilities of her data collecting a step further – devising and taking on more and more complex processes. The extreme project 1


Timelines (p.38), for which, in the summer of 2006, she attempted to document everything she did 24 hours a day for four weeks, was for Ellie ‘the last straw which pushed me into quitting’. I have to admit I was a little saddened to hear of Ellie’s announcement. I liked the projects that she had made by collecting data – I admired her work ethic and aspired to be as successful and prolific in my own practice as she was. Many of Ellie’s previous projects seemed to neatly, intelligently and interestingly respond to and reflect upon the world we live in – questioning, perhaps, why it is we feel the need to attempt to create order, define our tasks, analyse our decisions and communicate something about our daily activities to others. My enjoyment of these projects and others Ellie has worked on perhaps reveals my own attraction to and affiliation with ‘futile’ tasks, attempts at order and collections and collations of things that don’t ‘require’ as much attention as they are given. This book is a document of Ellie’s public ‘dumping’ of data collecting and the rigorous process of therapy which followed this decision. The Hysterical–Historical Praxis Therapy has, as a result, enabled Ellie to begin to discover a new set of interests and concerns, to attempt to find ‘useful’ ways of spending her time and, as the therapist suggests, to become ‘aware of the perils of overproduction, and self-edit accordingly’. I too am guilty of making work that fits into a similar mode of practice. I too have fallen into the traps of producing work that isn’t up to scratch, because I have stretched myself too thinly or said ‘yes’ to too much. And so it falls to me to consider the possibilities of Hysterical–Historical Praxis Therapy and, attempting to keep an open mind at all times, to try out the suggested methodologies, the proposed solutions, and, as was Ellie’s aim from the beginning, to attempt to develop ‘a healthier and more outward-looking practice’. Hannah Jones

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Hysterical–Historical Praxis Therapy Are you an artist that has lost your way? Have you painted yourself into a corner because you cannot break out of the style or methods you spent so long trying to hone? Do you wish your practice lived up to your expectations of art instead of being the easy option you know you can pull off? Do you wonder what the point of it all is anyway? If you answered ‘yes’ to none, one or more or all of these questions, then read on. The following inspirational story is about the artist Ellie Harrison, who came to the Hysterical–Historical Praxis Therapy Clinic having made the shock decision to quit ‘data collecting’. She was suffering from severe disillusionment and asking similar questions to those above. After three months of intensive treatment, however, Ellie has transformed into a vivacious, prolific and fulfilled practitioner. She even feels positive about her past work too and now realises it was a necessary phase that has enabled her to develop her new, improved practice. Ellie’s former condition is common among young artists. She had become unhappily entrenched in a very rigid way of working, most likely due to pressure from art world expectations, and the market in particular, to develop a signature style or methodology – a ‘brand’, you might say. Hysterical–Historical Praxis Therapy enabled Ellie to quiz herself on her ideology as an artist and as an individual in history and society, and reassess the relationship between the two. The ‘Hysterical’ and ‘Historical’ indicate the two processes applied to an artist’s understanding of their own practice: the immediate visceral emotional response and the longer, objective perspective. It is seldom that we, as artists or members of society, have the time to join these two things up or perhaps even understand how our roles as each vary. 3


While politics is the rickety science of regulating a society made up of individuals, Hysterical–Historical Praxis Therapy is the science of just and true self-governance with respect to society, history and the future of art. Ellie undertook therapy to purge herself of her ‘branded’ practice, which was increasingly consuming and paralysing her. Ellie’s unique selling point (USP) was an obsession with collecting and displaying data about her own life. She doggedly recorded instances of everyday physiological functions, such as eating (Eat 22 p.18), farting (Statistics Are Hot Air p.30) and sneezing (Sneezes 2003 p.28), for a fixed period that would range from a few weeks to a few years. Sometimes she would even attempt to capture qualitative information – the sort of phenomena that are usually at odds with the scientific method, such as the content of moments of contemplation (Tea Blog p.36) or the emotive prompt for a bout of swearing (Swear Box 2005 p.32). After a number of years of dissecting, enumerating and displaying every aspect of her life, Ellie contrived the ultimate exercise in self-analysis, which would eventually propel her into a state of paralysing disillusionment. The piece in question, Timelines (p.38), was conducted over a four-week residency in summer 2006, during which she categorised every single activity performed each day, reconstructing her life in colour-coded timelines that enabled her to ascertain its structure at a glance. The final spreadsheet contained 2,297 entries that indicated the entire array of nonspecific mundane activities, from ‘employment’ to ‘exercise’ to ‘sleeping’. As Ellie said afterwards: ‘it was horrible feeling so trapped – I couldn’t do anything without generating and accumulating data’. After rejecting her former practice, Ellie sought help in her process of recuperation and has consequently made a full recovery from the cumulative trauma of her many years as a data collector. This book outlines the process, known as Hysterical–Historical Praxis Therapy, developed specifically to help retrain artists who are experiencing a damaging schism between self and others, history and contemporaneity, practice and theory, instinct and intellect, and art and the wider world. 4


In brief, there are four steps to Hysterical–Historical Praxis Therapy, which can be summarised as follows: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

emotional honesty in the form of the patient’s confessions vigorous analysis of what lies behind these words historically rigorous case studies of previous solutions conclusive resolutions pointing the way forward motivational slogans to carry the patient onwards to success and happiness

The treatment is bespoke, as patients subject themselves to a process of painful frankness and cauterising criticality that is particular to their own practice. The therapist keeps a detailed report of this process, which then becomes the patient’s lifeline in the rare occurrence of a relapse. Ellie has agreed to publish four unexpurgated sections of this report, as she believes that many other artists could also benefit from Hysterical–Historical Praxis Therapy. The following entries relay a painful journey of self-realisation and historical contextualisation that Ellie hopes will encourage other artists who find themselves in a morass of pointlessness and self-loathing to seek treatment.

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Report Section 1

Target-Driven Society Patient’s Confession Hopping from one project to the next allowed me to maintain a sense of structure and routine in my life. I was able to relinquish all control to the logic of data collecting. Therapist’s Analysis Data can be used to signify personal phenomena. It reduces the complexity of lived experience to faceless charts, graphs and columns of numbers. Although it may be possible to ascertain how long the patient spent sleeping or working on her computer, there is no way of gleaning nuances or substantial insights into the nature of these activities, their effect on the world, or the patient’s moods or intentions. This is a prototypical example of alienation in the business age. During the patient’s tender youth, in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher’s neoliberal programme of privatisation and micromanagement instilled a culture of targets and performance measurement that has infiltrated all aspects of British society. Hospitals and schools are now gauged on quantitative parameters such as waiting times and grades, while culture is evaluated by way of visitor numbers, opinion polls and so on. This generally causes directors and employees to think in terms of tangible numerical outcomes rather than fuzzy humanist ideals, and can even skew working practice to achieve the correct numerical outcome rather than healthy patients or good art. The data collecting artist propagates this culture of quantified qualities, effectively dehumanising experience and converting it into unintegrated and therefore meaningless instances of sneezing, eating and so on. By not affiliating these functions with a psychological state or social situation the patient was prioritising bald utility over enriching experience.

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Penguin book cover of Britain by Mass-Observation, 1939

Case Study: Mass-Observation Mass-Observation was a nationwide study initiated in 1937 by anthropologist Tom Harrisson, poet Charles Madge and filmmaker Humphrey Jennings with the purpose of collating ‘an anthropology of ourselves’. Through a battalion of observers, diarists, pollsters and photographers working across the country, Mass-Observation collected information on the everyday lives of Britons. Their written studies outlined social and cultural phenomena such as pub going, clothes rationing, savings, the national birth rate, juvenile delinquency, popular attitudes to religion and so on. As an anthropological exercise, though, Mass-Observation was criticised for its objective means, whereby the will and experience of the individual was lost to the empirical data. By the early 1950s the group realigned their aims from social issues towards consumer behaviour, creating data for the marketing industry. Conclusion Information culture and target-led endeavour result in dehumanisation and the instrumentalisation of individuals. The desiccation of culture, society and politics can only be averted by considering contradictory individual concerns instead of abstracting them into figures for statistical manipulation that feed professional achievement profiles. Motivational Slogan Nine out of ten people dislike statistics! 7


Report Section 2

Mindless Administration Patient’s Confession I felt I was spending hours each week employed as the administrator for my own life. Therapist’s Analysis The 1980s was also a decade in which businesses designed to maintain non-essential functions proliferated. Thatcher’s children, as the patient’s generation are called, grew up in an economic landscape where whole systems of commerce were established where, in the stead of goods, a stratum of abstract advisory, regulatory, alternative and optimising bodies appeared, spawning jobs with mystifying titles like ‘higher hedge fund facilitator’, ‘inter-business under-analyst limiter’ or ‘data collector’.

Time magazine cover showing Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, 14 May 1979

The unnecessary application of business management models to everyday life is a frightening fall-out of late capitalism’s prioritising of executive structures and administrative controls. Our electronic diaries are based on Fordist models of serial and contiguous synchrony, while high-street clothes sizes are continually altered to reflect the fluctuations in average body shape in on-the-fly computations similar to monetary exchange rate mechanisms. The data collecting artist too becomes a self-regulating micromanagement structure, whereby fractions, numerical ranges and data categories are objectified in graphs, charts and tables with 8


no practical value – a fetishising of the process of processing and nothing more. ‘Billion Dollar Bill’ campaign leaflet designed by Billionaires for Bush, 2004

Case Study: Billionaires for Bush Billionaires for Bush is a US-wide network of lobbyists who employ arch parody as a critical tool. Dressed as toffs and decadents they have orchestrated street theatre-style campaigns that draw attention to the most nefariously undemocratic aspects of the Bush administration by pastiching support for them. As they say in their mission statement: ‘as guardians of privilege and power, it’s our sacred duty to defend the Bush administration from freedom-loving accountability addicts in the Progressive Movement.’ This ironic support of the administration is intended to draw our attention to its absurd, almost feudal, power as it has seized and centralised control over due-process rights, the Geneva Convention and elements of the banking system. Billionaires for Bush railed against Bush’s self-legislating monolith, which seemed as unassailable as the structure of power in Kafka’s The Great Wall of China, where the workers were organised so as to have no comprehension of the structure of the workforce as a whole. When no one worker or micro-manager understands his position within such a hegemonic system, revolution or reform becomes impossible. Conclusion Over-administration is a stagnating condition of our time. It places a barrier between ourselves and the world, often deferring the possibility of direct action and grand gestures, instituting diluted, sanitised, devolved acts of micro-management in their place. Motivational Slogan Artists do it without spreadsheets! 9


Report Section 3

Quantity vs Quality Patient’s Confession Web2.0 has spawned a whole new generation of data collectors. There is now such a ridiculous abundance of boring information about other people’s lives on the internet, I felt obliged to stop adding to it. Therapist’s Analysis The electronic revolution and the information highway have precipitated a vertiginous upsurge of data as product, service and leisure pursuit. User-generated content, in which anyone with access can produce, publish, pronounce, critique, extemporise or debate, effectively undermines the power of institutions and commercial entities traditionally charged with the responsibility of publishing, broadcasting and distribution. In The Cult Of The Amateur: How Blogs, Wikis, Social Networking, and the Digital World are Assaulting our Economy, Culture and Values, Andrew Keen laments the atrophying of cultural standards by so-called democratised media. While the right-leaning commentator may have a point to a degree, it would be reactionary to reinstate cultural gatekeepers and hierarchical structures to stem and direct production and distribution. The conundrum is yet to be satisfactorily answered, but a realisation of the debate is a start. Artists, writers, bloggers and so on should be aware of the perils of overproduction, and self-edit accordingly, to the point of ceasing to produce at all if necessary. Case Study: The Negation of Art Since Duchamp famously gave up art to play chess in 1923, there has been a counter-art history of negation. The Dadaists’ ‘anti-art’ stance, which radically undermined the primacy of the art object, was answered in the 1950s and ’60s by the ‘inter-art’ of Fluxus, Gustav Metzger’s auto-destructive art of the 1960s and dematerialisation of the artwork by way of conceptualism and performance of the 1970s. While some of the impetus behind 10


dematerialisation was to sidestep the art market, the Art Strikes of the 1970s and, consequently, Stewart Home’s Art Strike of 1990–3 operated as institutional critique. By signalling the structure of production and distribution by withdrawing elements of it – i.e. by artists ceasing to produce work – critical debate was ignited on how these structures should be re-established from the ground up.

‘The Years Without Art’ Art Strike emblem designed by Stewart Home, 1990

Conclusion Culture, like ecology, is vulnerable to overproduction. There is plenty of excellent stuff in the world already, often buried in history, and it would be more economic and less damaging to unearth these artefacts and ideas than to simply keep producing more mediocrity or senseless administrative data that would only bury them deeper. Motivational Slogan Make love not art!

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Report Section 4

Introspection and Narcissism Patient’s Confession I got sick of making work about me, me, me. I was paranoid about being seen as self-absorbed or totally narcissistic, even if it were true. Therapist’s Analysis Autobiography as an art genre came to prominence in the 1970s, most notably through the work of radical feminists. Relating stories about oneself was a way of giving voice to an oppressed or marginalised group and of generating empathy through the recognition of common experience. Such banal information as that divulged by the patient, however, offers little to get one’s teeth into on the humanitarian front. Rather than giving voice, this often emotionally denuded information isolates bodily mechanism from intention or cause. The question arises, then, of why the sneeze of an ‘artist’ is any more interesting than the sneeze of anyone else you’d care to pick in the street. The patient has been burying her head in the sandpit of art. Modernism claimed that art should be beyond the influence of society, that it should remain autonomous. The widespread acceptance of appropriation made it ok for artists to draw content and references from the world at large and not necessarily respect the original context. For the contemporary artist anything is up for grabs; history is a level playing field; all other disciplines, genres, narratives and voices are legitimate fodder. While this dismantles the hierarchies of knowledge that traditionally underpin power structures, it also gives the green light for ignorance and disrespect. Artists must make sure that they go out to meet the world on its terms and don’t always draw aspects of the world into their own orbit simply for use towards their own narcissistic ends.

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‘I am still alive’ telegram sent by On Kawara, 10 December 1975

Case Study: On Kawara During the 1970s On Kawara sent telegrams to friends that simply stated ‘I am still alive’. The action represents an absurdist narcissism, which pastiches 18th-century romantic perceptions of the artist as a genius on the outskirts of society who automatically imbues a material or idea with significance and value and elevates it to the status of artwork. Like Billionaires for Bush, Kawara is ironising the caricature of the artist for the purpose of critique. That this is difficult to discern, though, creates an ontological uncertainty that generates a positive state of curiosity, served up with a healthy dollop of scepticism on the side. Conclusion Artists must beware of assuming that all that they think or do is of inordinate interest. The world out there is almost certainly more interesting, so let’s look beyond the end of our noses. Motivational Slogan Nobody knows my nose like I knows my nose. Neither do they want to!

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Diagnosis Ellie has, as you have read, really put herself through the mill during Hysterical–Historical Praxis Therapy. Examining her practice in wider historical and political contexts, she has bravely exposed herself to the inferiority complex art invariably suffers when it pops its head up over the parapet. Modernist autonomy may well have been a necessary condition for a cultural practice that could have been considered frivolous or indulgent in a century that quickly fell into tumult, but it is vital that art is no longer cosseted or held apart from the world. The freewheeling thinking that it encourages, or indeed requires, is a point for ferocious defence; and art is political by its very existence, as it embodies the radical ability to be utterly useless to a system based on utility and control. Ellie has found that, by eschewing ‘data collecting’ – the very lifeblood of such a system – she can break the yoke of her Thatcherite upbringing, revivify her practice and burst forth with scandalously unregulated energy, to actively fight back against the system that created her. Sally O’Reilly as the therapist

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Ellie Harrison

Hannah Jones

Ellie Harrison was born in the London Borough of Ealing in 1979. She studied Fine Art at Nottingham Trent University, Goldsmiths College, London and Glasgow School of Art. In 2003 her project Eat 22 (p.18) was shown at the Science Museum, London as part of the exhibition Treat Yourself. It is now on permanent display at the Wellcome Collection museum in London. In 2005 Ellie’s project Gold Card Adventures (p.20) formed her solo exhibition at Piccadilly Circus Underground station as part of the Platform for Art programme (now Art on the Underground). In 2005–6 Ellie was curator of the exhibition Day-to-Day Data, which featured newly commissioned work by twenty ‘data collecting’ artists. It launched at Angel Row Gallery in Nottingham before touring to Aspex Gallery, Portsmouth and Danielle Arnaud contemporary art, London where it coincided with a symposium held at the ICA. The exhibition was accompanied by an extensive website and the Day-to-Day Data publication, which Ellie also edited.

Hannah Jones is the Exhibitions and Events Officer at Plymouth College of Art, curating and managing the Viewpoint Gallery and the visiting artist lecture programme. Plymouth College of Art is one of only four remaining independent colleges of art and design in the UK and represents a strong, lively and dedicated creative community, engaged in specialist art and design courses. Hannah is also one half of the performance duo LOW PROFILE (with Rachel Dobbs). They have recently presented performances at Plymouth Arts Centre and The Royal Standard, Liverpool and are Associate Artists at Arnolfini, Bristol.

www.ellieharrison.com www.daytodaydata.com

www.plymouthart.ac.uk www.we-are-low-profile.com

Sally O’Reilly Sally O’Reilly is a writer, contributing regularly to many art publications, including Art Monthly, Frieze, Art Review, Spike and Time Out. She has written essays on emerging and established artists for international organisations such as Tate Modern, London, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, and BALTIC, Gateshead. Sally is also co-editor of the thematic, interdisciplinary broadsheet Implicasphere and a dean of Brown Mountain College of the Performing Arts, an itinerant platform for the production of performative events. www.implicasphere.org.uk www.brownmountain.org.uk

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Confessions of a Recovering Data Collector has been published to coincide with the launch of Ellie Harrison’s solo exhibition at the Viewpoint Gallery at Plymouth College of Art from 23 April – 30 May 2009. The exhibition and this book form the outcomes of her period as artist in residence at the college from 1 January – 1 June 2009. During this time she made a series of monthly research visits to the college in order to work with Fine Art students and develop a new body of work signalling the direction of her ‘new practice’. The Viewpoint Gallery runs an annual programme of exhibitions and events at Plymouth College of Art, showcasing work by the most exciting emerging and established artists, working in a range of different discipline areas.

Acknowledgements Ellie Harrison would like to thank Hannah Jones at Plymouth College of Art for her tireless support of this publication, and Sally O’Reilly for her enthusiasm for the task of role-playing the ‘therapist’ and for her patience during the rehabilitation process. She would also like to thank Jon Burgerman, Anne Harrison, Bernard Harrison and Flo Harrison for their relentless patience living, working and putting-up with a ‘data collector’ for all those years. This book is dedicated to Eve Wickerson and was launched on the date of her first birthday.

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© 2009 Plymouth College of Art, Ellie Harrison, Hannah Jones and Sally O’Reilly First published in April 2009 by Plymouth College of Art Press Tavistock Place, Plymouth, Devon, PL4 8AT, United Kingdom Telephone: + 44 (0)1752 203434 Email: enquiries@plymouthart.ac.uk www.plymouthart.ac.uk All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission of the publisher. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN 978-0-9557491-3-1 Edited by Ellie Harrison and Hannah Jones Photography by Ellie Harrison except Daily Data Display Wall (p.24) by Julian Hughes and Statistics Are Hot Air (p.30) by Bruce Ayling Designed by Fraser Muggeridge studio Printed and bound by Die Keure


Data Collecting Activity

s Eat 22 11 March 2001 – 11 March 2002 Duration: 1 year, 1day Ellie photographed and recorded information about everything that she ate between her 22nd and 23rd birthdays. The 1,640 images were archived online (www.eat22.com) and made into a highspeed animated film.


Gold Card Adventures 23 September 2002 – 22 September 2003 Duration: 1 year Ellie recorded the distance of every journey she made on London Transport using her yearly travelcard. Details of the journeys were archived online and the ongoing cumulative total was visualised through a series of imitation postcards exhibited at Piccadilly Circus Underground station in 2005 as part of the Platform for Art programme (now Art on the Underground).

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21


Example of a Daily Quantification Record sheet

Daily Quantification Records 1January – 31 December 2003 Duration: 1 year Ellie recorded data about 14 different elements of her life each day throughout 2003. The data was applied to a series of scales and systems to output the specifications for monthly sculptures.

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THE GUIDELINES FOR MAINTAINING THE DAILY QUANTIFICATION RECORDS

Video still from the explanatory film

Installation view of The Monthly Sculptures Determined by the Daily Quantification Records at Goldsmiths College, London

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Installation view at Angel Row Gallery, Nottingham

Daily Data Display Wall 18 July – 29 October 2005 Duration: 14 weeks, 6 days For the duration of the Day-to-Day Data exhibition in Nottingham and Portsmouth, Ellie collected data about 20 different elements of her life. The results were emailed to the gallery each morning and used to reconfigure and adjust various sections of the display.

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Example of a Daily Data Log sheet

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Installation view at Danielle Arnaud contemporary art, London

Daily Data Display Room 9 March – 23 April 2006 Duration: 6 weeks, 4 days For the duration of the Day-to-Day Data exhibition in London, Ellie collected data about 10 different elements of her life. The results were compiled into instruction sheets which were emailed to the gallery each morning and used to reconfigure and adjust various sections of the display.

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Explanatory poster used as part of the installation

Installation view at Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham

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Sneezes 2003 1January – 31 December 2003 Duration: 1 year Throughout 2003, Ellie recorded the exact time of every sneeze that she did. In 2004 this data was presented as an installation at the Wallner Gallery. The gallery walls were used as a giant two-way timeline, on which each of the 318 individual sneezes were pinpointed.

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Statistics Are Hot Air 1 January – 31 December 2003 Duration: 1 year During the Daily Quantification Records (p. 22) project in 2003, Ellie recorded her daily output of ‘gaseous emissions’. In 2007 this data was used to create a giant colour-coded vinyl bar chart at Birmingham Moor Street station.

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WARNING: The following pages contain strong language 31


Swear Box 2005 1 January – 31 December 2005 Duration: 1 year Throughout 2005, Ellie recorded every sentence that she uttered which contained a swear word. These 142 sentences were archived in the online swear box (www.ellieharrison.com/swearbox), alongside a summary of the cause of the outburst.

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s The Challenge Series

My Head’s Swimming

From February 2004 Duration: lifelong This online programme (www.ellieharrison.com/challenges) monitors Ellie’s progress at three massive challenges. The Trans-Atlantic Challenge records the total distance of all the lengths she swims in her local pool as she strives to complete the 5,400 kilometres across the Atlantic over the course of her lifetime.

13 January – 4 April 2003 Duration: 11 weeks, 5 days For nearly three months, Ellie recorded all the things she thought about whilst swimming in her local pool in Ealing, London. The 243 thoughts were archived online (www.ellieharrison.com/ headsswimming) where they can still be accessed via the random thought generator.

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When I’m swimming I think about: my goggles being too tight trying to remember my thoughts whether I’ve always been like this forgetting the number of lengths that I’ve swum the impossibility of a truly original idea the fear of not knowing when a terrorist attack will come the tiles on the bottom of the pool being a vegetarian for the rest of my life my lack of creative production Blair daring to ignore a two million strong protest against the war having lost the freedom to experiment phlegm floating in the water winning the lottery how boring my thoughts must appear Bush being a self-righteous, religious crackpot whether other people are impressed by my swimming skills giving more money to charity moving to the countryside next year the regularity of my breathing how I shouldn’t have eaten all those crisps last night concrete blocks falling from the ceiling into the pool how unhygienic the pool must be the turbulent political climate the futile cycle of life how glad I am that I got out of bed having to swim to safety in an emergency being fitter than I was before what I look like to other people living until I’m one hundred years old what it would be like if I gave up art how unreliable London Transport has become my stuff being stolen from my locker having a shower afterwards doing this for the rest of my life becoming more involved in the anti-war movement how to represent my ideas being electrocuted being overtaken the self-destructive nature of human beings sharks

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s Tea Blog

Timelines

1 January 2006 – 31 December 2008 Duration: 3 years For three years, Ellie recorded a short snippet of what she was thinking about every time she had a cup of tea or a different type of hot drink. 1,650 thoughts were archived online (www.teablog.net) during this period where they can still be accessed.

26 June – 23 July 2006 Duration: 4 weeks For four weeks, Ellie kept a record of everything she did, 24 hours a day. She categorised her time into 17 different possible activities such as ‘art practice’, ‘domestic work’ or ‘leisure’ to create a series of 28 colour-coded timelines.

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10 July 2006

11 July 2006

12 July 2006

13 July 2006

14 July 2006


I was so focused on the minutiae of my everyday life that I became totally blinkered to everything else going on in the world outside.

9 Ellie Harrison was a ‘data collector’. For over five years she documented and recorded information about nearly every aspect of her daily routine – amassing reams of data in the process. She photographed and catalogued 1,640 meals and snacks for her project Eat 22, and calculated the total distance of a year’s worth of travel on public transport for Gold Card Adventures. But these laborious, demanding and introverted processes took their toll. Something had to give. Ellie had to quit.

This book documents the process of rehabilitation that followed, as Ellie set about coming to terms with her data collecting past and beginning to reinvent her role as artist. Sally O’Reilly transforms into the ‘therapist’ – devising and administering our patient with a harsh but eye-opening treatment known as Hysterical–Historical Praxis Therapy, she helps to illuminate the social, political and historical context of this condition. By way of an introduction to this process, Hannah Jones reflects on Ellie’s previous work and contemplates the benefits of the therapy for herself.

Will Ellie emerge the other side an artist changed for the better?

Confession of a Recovering Data Collector  

BUY ONLINE: ellieharrison.com/confessions — Published in 2009, this is the first book to be dedicated to the ‘data collecting’ practice of...

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