Ellen Bechtel

Artist Statement

STREAM is a development project of the USGS Vizlab. As a team, we try to communicate USGS science in context, and we relish opportunities to develop artistic expressions of the hydrologic world around us. We design with code, starting with datasets made available for free by the Department of the Interior. The dataset itself becomes the foundation for – and creative restraint on – what we decide to develop into a piece of data art.

In the case of STREAM, we discovered the enormous amount of data made accessible on the web through the National Water Information System and realized that it represented a tension found in a lot of “data lakes” where data points sit forever in their natural format, waiting to be pulled downstream to something useful. These datasets are enormous – which is part of the awesome power of them! But they can be so big that they become overwhelming and thus, inaccessible. What entry points could we create to probe the depths of the enormous amounts of information that the USGS has collected for the last 130 years?

It was from this place of curiosity that we build a tool that pulls data and shows a rough look at the whole hydrologic world captured by a subset of USGS gages. We are inspired by the data-driven artwork of Nadieh Bremer and Shirley Wu, and we think that these kinds of beautiful and fun expressions of data are a way to highlight the work of scientific agencies like the USGS and through it, appreciate the wonder of the hydrologic world around us.

Bechtel’s work STREAM will be on display during the Data Science Research Bazaar’s Poster Session & Art Exhibit.