ARC Graduate Profile: Mel Galley

Artist and recent IADT ARC graduate Mel Galley joined the Data Stories research team at Maynooth University in autumn 2023. As part of a new series of ARC Graduate Profiles, we’ve asked her to write about Data Stories and her role within this fascinating project.

Data isn’t neutral. The methods used to create data, from the decisions on what to collect or omit to the narrative data is put to work inside (be it for policy, politics or activism), all build to frame the data we encounter.

Data Stories, based at Maynooth University, is an ERC-funded project researching the property and planning data ecosystem in Ireland. The team is made up of researchers and artists with overlapping interests in critical data studies, place, planning and housing (the team is also incredibly sound and supportive, which is an added bonus).

On the project I am creating stories with and about data in response to research by the Data Stories team and workshops with case study participants. I use speculative fiction to create writings and visual landscapes out of my research (and ‘research’ here could range from walks, to conversations, to academic papers, to policy documents and census data and films).

Over the project my work is focused on two case studies; firstly on planning data with a private company who wrangles (cleans-up) data from the planning system to sell on as ‘opportunities’ to potential contractors and investors. In this case study I am interested in philosophies of research systems, ethics of private and public data, issues in the Irish planning system and current debates on the housing crisis.

My second case study, which has recently started, focuses on how data is employed to scaffold narrative (how data is used to build ideas and arguments). The researchers on this case study are taking a topic in planning/property and analysing the differences in data usage by actors responding to that area, for example how state, business, media and academic fields would each use data in reports around the planning pipeline or commercial vacancy. My interest in this case study lies in the entwining of language, storytelling and data.

At the six-month point of this residency, with another six months left, I am moving from a largely research-based studio time to material experimentation and the development of writings (I currently have seven different tabs open with writings in-progress haunting the top bar of my chrome).

Over the next months I will be looking to finish these works, which vary in length from short poems to essays to long fictional narratives. I find in my practice that writing is still unfinished when the words are fixed in place; how the piece is shared (as small zines, artistic books, performances) is equally an integral part of the work, with storytelling/performance being the direction I am currently looking towards.

The chance to spend such a sustained length of time with one body of work (as well as one group of researchers) has been a really welcome shift in my practice, allowing me to sit with ideas and thinking as well as work across multiple pieces at once and develop close relationships with the research team. Here’s to another six months!