Data Scavenging : Petra Valdimarsdóttir

"Petra Valdimarsdóttir uses her design background as a foundation to produce photo, text and video works as well as interactive installations that dissect the space between data consumer and the data itself. Often using the internet as a fountain of material, Valdimarsdóttir scratches at copyright boundaries by re-appropriating information and images to reveal the raw humanity that belies it."

Here are a few words about her and her latest project- "Data Scavenging."

Where did you grow up, and where are you living now?
I grew up in a few different places. I was born in Iceland. My father is an Icelandic viking and my mother is a little kiwi-lady from New Zealand. Me and my siblings grew up in a cocktail mixture of Iceland and Holland.

Right now at this very moment i'm every where and no where, the past 2 years i've been traveling back and forth between New York, Berlin, Reykjavík and Rotterdam. At the moment I'm in Warsaw, I told myself to get grounded to one place within a year, this was 3 years ago.. But I do have a little bit of a place called "home" in Berlin and tend to come back to that after a few months of traveling. So far it's a bit of a gipsy existence.

Did you attend any postsecondary institutions? If so, what did you study?
Yes, I have a degree in Interaction design but I've always had a big interest in printed media. Books are one of my biggest addictions. I love artist books and I enjoy making them and implementing them with installation works. Sometimes they go together very well and sometimes there's no added value to the combination. But when there is, it makes me happy seeing them side by side.

How much have you found that your aspirations have changed from when you were younger? Did you originally want to pursue another career?
I don't think they have really changed, I think the aspirations grew and moulded along the way. I guess I was a very curious child and always wanted to seek out things that I didn't know or found a bit odd and that's kind of what I do now as well- seek subjects that make my head turn a little and translate them into something understandable or highlight it through the language of design/art.

What about your free time? How do you spend it?
I spend my free time on the internet, that sounds a bit sad.. BUT IT'S NOT. I have a big love for the internet, it contains the entire universe and I like spending hours being fascinated with things I find in this completely overloaded strange universe. I simply could not live without it. Well, maybe I could, but I wouldn't be the same and I wouldn't make the same work as I do now. So I must say I'm very grateful for the internet. If I could marry it, yea I would.

But, I do do other things as well you know.. yes.. I like to spend hours in bookstores and cafe's, when there's a book store with a cafe, you know I'll be their number one customer.

Can you tell us about your latest project- “Data Scavenging”..?
Data scavenging started this past winter on a rainy evening in New York, I was browsing the internet for archives on american culture I was actually looking for material related to cowboys. Out of no where came this beautiful archive of these native american tribe portraits. When you find something like that you just simply can't let it go- so I started saving all the images and dissecting them, and finally translating it all into a book and an installation piece.

How long did it take you to complete the project?
It took me about 2 days to finish the book. I have no patience whatsoever. So when I start a project, I will work on it non-stop with almost no sleep till the very point I get distracted and start working on something else. But the installation took a while. I didn't have the right space to set it up and I like using a very clean background, but now while in Warsaw, a massive white wall came my way and it was just perfect for this project. Putting up the piece doesn't have to even take that long but i tend to divide it into a few evenings. I think it took 5 evenings of simultaneously listening to documentaries and sipping on cold beers while hanging up the prints. I took my time, and I don't want it to feel like work- it should be a fun experience.

What do you think it is that originally drew you to these past collections and archives?
I think being able to visualize something that has been hidden away and simply showing a large amount of data designed with a few simple rules, and giving the information overload a touch of humanity. Drawing a face on a faceless person, I guess.

And I think it's just me having a hate for most infographics I come across. I usually can't read shit from what they're trying to visualize. The information is a bit of blur in a beautiful graphic. So I think the installation pieces I make are kind of analog infographics shown in a different or maybe unfamiliar way.

Could you tell us about some of your other projects/books? Do you have a favourite?
My favorite is "Come & go", this project consists a book and an envelope wall. So each envelope contains a person that has been executed on death row in one specific jail in the U.S and the word stated on the front of the envelope is the very last word the prisoner said before being executed.

Inside the envelope you find all kinds of personal information like their name, age, weight, mug shot, location and what murder they committed. On the back of the envelope you're able to read their full last sentences. The wall is made chronologically stating from the prison's very first execution in 1982 till this very day.

The wall keeps on growing as the executions keep on taking place.

This is one of my favorite projects because it actually grows each month and year and the meaning of the piece grows as the wall becomes taller and taller.

Favourite Artists or Designers?
There are a few, my favorite artists would be Taryn Simon, Radek Szlaga, Pieter Hugo, Adriaan van der ploeg. I'm trying to dig up a few names but I'm absolutely dreadful with names. Forget them from the word go.

My all time favorite designer I would say would be Stefan Sagmeister, though. I really like the covers of his books and his german accent does the trick as well.

What do the next few months hold for you?
I'm going to Iceland this summer and finishing a project I started last christmas- and at the same time I'm going on a road trip with a few friends we'll be driving around Iceland and camping wherever we can.

The project I'm finishing is about my uncle who lives on a horse farm. I used to spend summers helping on the farm and milking cows when it was a cow farm. I must admit i wasn't very good at it. Scared as hell of these animals. The way they look at you as if they know something you don't. Makes you feel a tad stupid for some weird reason.

View more of Petra's work here.