Mitchell Whitelaw

Drifter, 2016


Image courtesy of the artist

Mitchell Whitelaw (b.1972) is an academic, writer and maker with interests in digital design and culture, data practices, more-than-human worlds and digital collections. His work has appeared in journals including Leonardo, Digital Creativity, Digital Humanities Quarterly, and Senses and Society. Whitelaw’s work with institutions include the State Library of NSW, the State Library of Queensland, the National Archives and the National Gallery of Australia, where he develops generous interfaces to their digital collections. His current research investigates environmental and biodiversity visualisation, and digital design for a more-than-human world. Mitchell is currently an Associate Professor in the School of Art and Design at the Australian National University.

Through data and code Whitelaw seeks out moments of insight and delight that intensify our engagement with a complex world. With Drifter Whitelaw represents a multilayered portrait of the Murrumbidgee river system, made out of data. By fusing historic images, newspaper articles, scientific observations and digital maps; tens of thousands of data points come together in three ever-changing views – Map, Sifter, and Compositor.

Map traces fragments of the river’s (white) history, from everyday life to large-scale interventions alongside human stories, thousands of scientific observations reveal some of the nonhuman life of the river. Sifter transforms text into texture, drifting through text snippets from newspaper articles discussing the Murrumbidgee and its tributaries, piecing together the names of some of the living things that go unmentioned in these accounts. And, Compositor combines historic images from library and archive collections with contemporary images from fieldwork monitoring the health of the river’s wetland ecology.

Website: Drifter

This work features in: GUAM (2021)