Data sparks new Manchester Science Festival art commission

Data visualisation experts Tekja have today been announced as the winners of the commission to create a brand-new artwork for the Manchester Science Festival headline exhibition Electricity: The spark of life.

The dazzling new work will create an “electric” animation in the gallery space, immersing audiences in the sheer scale of electricity used in Manchester and the North West, using real data provided by the region’s power network operator, Electricity North West.

The work will span past, present and future, exploring historic electricity usage through time, and use data modelling to project future scenarios.

Founded in 2012, Tekja is an award-winning, dynamic team of experts in data visualisation, information design and web development. The studio positions itself between art and technology and approaches each project with the ambition of developing data-driven experiences that are as insightful as they are innovative and engaging.

Previous projects include mapping Londoner’s Twitter emoji reactions to the General Election for the Museum of London and a real-time data stream revealing the everyday interactions taking in place in London, for Somerset House.

This will be the first time Tekja’s work has been publicly shown in the North of England.


Antonio Benitez, Director of the Manchester Science Festival, said: “We are delighted to announce that Tekja were the unanimous winners of the commission to create a new work for our Manchester Science Festival headline exhibition, Electricity: The spark of life. The panel were very impressed by the data visualisation work Tekja have created, and were inspired by their vibrant, thoughtful and challenging vision for this new artwork.”

Amanda Taylor co-founder, Tekja, said: “We are thrilled to be working with the team on this new data visualisation commission. We will be gathering and analysing masses of data, and by visualising it we will reveal the poetry and meaning behind the millions of invisible interactions and connections our electricity makes each day.

“Our process will involve using big data to answer some key questions to reveal what electricity in Manchester and the North West really is. Where does it come from and what route does it take to get to our houses? What is the scale and volume of electricity that we generate and use and how much do we rely on it?

“Above all we will reveal what this mass of invisible information – the routes, the sources, the sheer speed and scale – can tell us about our very human relationship with electricity and how much we may take it for granted.”

Electricity: The spark of life is the first headline event to be announced for the 2018 Manchester Science Festival.

The exhibition, created in partnership with Wellcome Collection in London and Teyler’s Museum in Haarlem, explores the vital, yet invisible, force of electricity.

An image from Tekja’s proposal of how the installation may look. The artists will now work with the exhibition team to create a final design.

At a time when we are more reliant on electricity than ever before, the exhibition will ask us to contemplate our ongoing relationship with electricity and imagine what the future might look like.

Through the ages, electricity has thrilled and amazed people, from the mysterious forces of electricity in nature to early experiments and the changes it has made to the way we live and work. The exhibition explores what electricity is and how scientists harnessed its power, through to mass generation and distribution. It also invites you to ask questions about what would happen if we lost it and how we can stay connected.

It features art/science commissions from three contemporary artists and brings together more than 100 objects from early electrostatic generators and light bulbs to household appliances, photographs and films.

Antonio Benitez said: “Electricity is a vital, yet invisible, part of our lives, and this major exhibition will show how this force, that we all use every day, is fundamental to human life and has captivated inventors, scientists and artists alike for centuries.”

The art commission is sponsored by the region’s power network operator, Electricity North West.

Electricity North West Chief Executive, Peter Emery, said: “Electricity is crucial to almost everything we do – from heating and lighting to home working, online streaming and shopping, downloading your favourite boxset and keeping in touch with friends and family.

“We operate the network that connects every home and business in the North West to the grid and there’s a revolution taking place in the way energy is being generated, delivered and used. More and more of us are moving to low carbon electricity to heat our homes and charge our cars, and even generating our own power through solar panels.

“We’re at the forefront of this innovation in the North West and we’re delighted to be showcasing the importance of the future of energy through this work with the Museum of Science and Industry.”

The Manchester Science Festival runs from Thursday, October 18 to Sunday, October 28, 2018. Electricity: The spark of life will continue until Sunday, April 28, 2019.

More additions to the Manchester Science Festival line-up will be announced on the festival website throughout the Spring.