Artist gives data a global dimension

For artist, designer, journalist, and sometimes educator Ingo Günther, disillusion and innovation are inextricably linked.

Frustrated by what he sees as the news media's sensationalist perspectives and art's sometimes idealistic and impractical approach to effecting social change, Mr. Günther was prompted to devise an innovative medium to remedy his disenchantment.

The result is "World Processor," a series of custom-made acrylic globes with individually manipulated surfaces that convey a diverse range of information and data in a colorful way. The project combines elements of journalism and art to provide a thought-provoking perspective on global issues ranging from nuclear testing sites to international trade.

"I want to make things in a way that people like to look at them," says Günther in a telephone interview from New York City. "It's sort of the antithesis to data sets or pages' worth of numbers, which are hard for people to read or translate. I make it a little more accessible."

Günther purchases his custom acrylic globes from several small mapmaking companies in the United States.It takes him and his two assistants about a week to research, design, and apply the vinyl graphics to each 12-inch globe. While he draws from a myriad of sources, Günther says he relies most heavily on United Nations reports, encyclopedias, and commercial reports.

"I like the idea of the globes being some kind of background reference for those that see a news story unfold on TV or in print," Günther said in an e-mail. "That way one won't get stuck in the myopic sensation of momentary focus."

Since crafting his first globes in 1988, Günther estimates that he has made around 1,000 spheres on some 300 different topics.

"But I think I've destroyed many more globes than I've actually made," he says.

Most of his finished works have been exhibited in some 30 shows around the world. Several globes were displayed at the 2000 World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, and he recently sold about 100 globes to a Japanese university for about $250,000, he says.

"The idea is to show 20, 30, or 50 globes at any given time together so that you can walk through this plantation of data and can relate [them] to one another," he says. "The globe stands in between two people, and they start talking about it, facing each other. That does not happen with a framed painting or any map."

The German-born Günther has worked extensively in television journalism, primarily for Japan's NHK. In 1989, he established the first independent television station in Eastern Europe (Channel X in Leipzig, Germany), about two months after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"World Processor" is one among several of Günther's artistic projects, many of which have focused on refugees.

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