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R. Luke Dubois, Data Artist Behind Britney Spears Photo Collages, Gets New Exhibition

He might be described as a "data-miner" but he's really a data architect.

by Johnny Magdaleno
Mar 11 2014, 9:00pm

Above two images, "A More Perfect Union"—common terms used in internet dating profiles nationwide via

It’s become common practice to associate R. Luke Dubois’ work with the term “data mining” for a number of reasons that are naturally implicit across his expansive body of work, such as his amazing aggregation of Missed Connections posts on Craigslist or his self-explanatory A Year In Mp3s. While past processes of earth-mining may parallel his work, his terrain is 21st century media and culture, the tools are softwares created beneath his hand, and the digging runs on a fuel that’s part analysis, part speculation, part wonder.

The datasets and subjects (the mineral-rich areas) he utilizes are far from obscure—Britney Spears, State of the Union addresses, speeches by Google founders. Yet, after unearthing common tendencies from each of these cultural icons, his multidisciplinary creations imbue in them a revitalized form of relevancy, which is then brought to life through his own brand of digitally-enhanced commentary.

Which is why “data architect” feels like a much more accurate, representative term of Dubois as an artist. He’s not just mining to obtain the gold—he wants it for his own constructions. And in a new survey of his work at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, FL, these constructions are coming together to allow viewers a look at the fascinating array of what he’s built so far.

Hindsight Is Always 20/20—Most common words in Abraham Lincoln’s State of the Union Address, via

Most common words in George W. Bush’s State of the Union Address

Case-in-point: his video piece Acceptance. Running speeches by 2012 presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obamas through one of Dubois’ softwares, the video establishes a visual compare-and-contrast between both partisans’ speech patterns and diction.

From Dubois’ website: “The two monologues, each approximately 40 minutes long, contain around 1500 unique words, 85% of which overlap between the two speakers. The piece synchronizes, whenever possible, the two candidates' language, so that they deliver each others' speeches in synchronicity. The work regularly alternates between which candidate is the rhetorical leader, so that one video is always playing in a linear fashion while the other jumps around to match the other speaker's vocabulary.”

Acceptance (Excerpt) from R. Luke DuBois on Vimeo.

Or, as mentioned earlier, his work on the video piece Pop Icon: Britney, which used facial recognition technology to scour the internet for a stockpile of photos featuring Ms. Spears’ once-ubiquitous face. The photos blend in and out of one another yet her eyes remain stuck in a fixed position. According to Dubois, it’s a computer-generated portrait of an artist who grew up alongside the proliferation of computer-assisted recording (read: auto-tune).

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One of Dubois most recent pieces—which debuted at the Ringling Museum exhibition’s opening on January 31st—compares speeches by Google’s two founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, by utilizing a software that endlessly “Googles” words used within each speech. This data is compiled in a visual word map, which constantly fluctuates with the software’s incorporation of new words and new searches. See a still from the videos below.

Returning to the “mining” vs. “architecture” metaphor, it then becomes self-explanatory why we can’t say Dubois is simply on a hunt for data. That’s why the term “mining” is both misleading and underwhelming. Nor can we simply say he’s “building” from that data, because his hands are in all facets of the creation process. Where “architecting” succeeds is in its implied devotion to that process—much like the devotion Dubois shows towards toning his work’s marriage of coding and aesthetics. (“Another late night…” reads a fixed headline over at his website) And as a result of that wedding, his constructs are ultimately rich with a cultural utility that renders them steadfast—like the work of all great architects—in the best style of relevancy: timelessness.

Keep up to date with Dubois at his website here.

Follow Johnny Magdaleno on Twitter: @johnny_mgdlno

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r. luke dubois
Data architect
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