Unit 2: 3D – Data Visualisation (pt 1)

Ahead of our first session, we were provided with a brief to collect data about ourselves over 7 days that we would be visualising over this 3 week 3D project. I chose to record my use of technology by clocking the time I interacted with screens over this period. I made use of the Screentime function on my iPhone to log my phone usage with great accuracy, and manually logged my use of the computer, TV and other screens (e.g. on the treadmill) as best I could.

The results of this proved to be both intriguing and mildly horrifying. Overall, screentime accounted for almost 39 hours in my week – equivalent to around a quarter of my total time in a week, or more than a third of my waking hours in a week (assuming 8 hours sleep per night).

The first session clarified further the task ahead – to create 30+ maquettes visualising our data with different materials/techniques. We were introduced to some artists who had either been involved in data visualisation or in 3D pieces that could have been adapted to serve in this way.

First, we used paper. I found it tricky to move beyond a straight graphical representation of the data and get beyond the 2D of the paper itself.

Left: Infinite scroll study, Right: Scale segments showing proportion of time spent in a week – from top Non-screen time, phone time, tv time, other

The infinite scroll is an element I am interested in exploring further – the mechanism used by social media apps such as Instagram and Facebook which meanas a you never complete/reach the end of a feed and could scroll downwards on it forever. I learnt about this feature in an episode of Abstract on Netflix with one of the Instagram designers, Ian Spalter, who cited this as his biggest regret. This study was simple in construction – the paper leant itself easily to this shape – and i extended the length by sticking multiple sheets together. I like that you could potentially unroll this piece and discover how long it goes for, but the fact it does have an end may undermine my intention? I could relate the length specifically to the length of time on an average day spent on my phone.

The other paper work, where I carefully measured the 2D areas to represent each proportion of my time to scale, may be more accurate to the purposes, but I found the exactitude limiting. It was only in the larger non-screen time I found myself becoming more engaged in the creative process. I tore the paper into individual strips which I then scrunched and stuck back together in striated layers. The idea here being that time spent away from screens enables the greatest degree of freedom. It was interesting that Sarah considered the non-screen one as a piece in itself, and commented on its brave construction. Perhaps it could act as a visualisation of that free time alone?

In the afternoon we moved onto paper clay. While we could have explored its materiality akin to paper (once rolled and allowed to dry a little) I was more drawn to its very pliable putty-like texture and in working with it in this way.

From top (clockwise): Thumb 7 day screen time bar chart, screen/non-screen pie chart, screen/non-screen balls, scale models of the different screens according to time spent in a week (phone, laptop, TV)

I used scale again here to explore the comparison of data within context of use. The two screen/non-screen proportional pieces are pleasingly simplistic. I like that with the balls you are drawn to holding them and weighing them in your hands, and did wonder about constructing a weighing scales to demonstrate this too. The pie chart comes across like a cheese wheel which I find quite amusing.

The 3 screen models appear quite surrealist to my eye, with the phone so outsized (while the tv and laptop could work together quite reasonably). I like that in fact the phone could believably be true to life scale, and then in that sense the TV and laptop actually the surreal scale.

I enjoyed most the tactile making of the thumbs though. I used the natural wrinkling of the clay as it was compressed to evoke the creases in the skin, and found it pleasing to be moulding a thumb using my own thumb – and using the nail of my thumb to create the thumbnails on them. That there are 7 is eye-catching (where we might expect a set of 5) and when collected in this way it is difficult to identify them as thumbs (where you would usually only have 1 in a set!). So playing with people’s expectations here is quite fun. Also, how they stand up from the base makes them appear as though coming out of the surface – a little creepy to my eye, especially since I had them all bent as though mid-scroll. The size of them relates to the length of time spent using screens in each day of the 7 day period, so is in effect a bar chart.

This was an example of using the thing itself to identify the thing, which we saw being used to good effect in journalistic data visualisation. I think this is more akin to illustration, where the data is telling us a story and the visualisation lends itself to communicating part of that – using visual shortcuts to aid understanding. Mona Chalabi (data editor at Guardian US) does this to good effect. I came across the below piece in the Beazley design of the year exhibition in the Design Museum in London, relating to this blog post on the Guardian website.

The fact she has used actual people within a gallery to signify the people who are and are not represented in modern galleries in the US is really powerful. First because we can ‘read’ the data quickly – that predominantly white males are present within the foreground (here being used metaphorically as those who are foregrounded in the art world – who is brought to our attention). In doing so she has made use of the classic Fine Art conventions of perspective in history painting I think to evoke the sense of tradition and out-datedness of the modern art world in how it has done this – the romanesque arches in the gallery emphasise this. It’s also particularly powerful I think because it humanises these underrepresented artists by actually painting them as simple silhouetted figures. It is too easy for statistics and data to dehumanise and cloud our understanding, while dehumanisation is especially problematic when we are considering populations considered to be ‘outliers’ or minorities (i.e. women, non-white races and cultures). The key is in cuing empathy – showing the human impact of data, as the numbers are usually all too easily swept under the rug (as the infamous quote below highlights). I found this article in the Guardian particularly interesting on this subject.

The death of one is a tragedy, the death of millions is just a statistic.

Joseph Stalin

Play: abstract use of objects – Research/my work

I was reflecting the other day about how several of the workshops we undertook in consideration of Dadaism and chance was in using objects in unusual ways/reducing them to their forms.

This reminded me of an artist I followed on instagram, Christoph Niemann (@abstractsunday) who illustrates for the New Yorker. He has an interesting TED talk which I include below, which discusses precisely this, and the role of the audience in visual communication (without recourse to cliche). I also enjoyed hearing about how this allows simple images to communicate complex ideas, even emotions – we fill in the blanks. The picture only need suggest enough.

I particularly enjoyed learning about his strategy here, in choosing an object from his home and reflecting on it for some time in how it might be portrayed differently.

The real magic doesn’t happen on paper, it happens in the mind of the viewer. When your expectations, your knowledge, clash with my artistic intentions.

Christoph Niemann, 2018

I am interested to use this strategy for myself. Following the success of my teapot figure I wondered about using one of the teapots I have at home.

I like these abstractions – I think I could develop them further and take better into account the space around my drawings to ensure I can best document the intended perspective in my photography (without going off the edge of the paper! Here I used A2 paper, but perhaps A1 would be better, especially when using sizeable objects.

The use of ink felt right here, as Niemann uses, as helps for quick sketching, but collage might be interesting too.

Personal Cartography: Research (pt 2)

Further reading in the You are here book introduced me to allegorical maps, which also seemed to be relevant to my chosen theme of maps with narrative.

As we navigate on the trip that Dante called ‘our life’s way’, we are all creating private maps… we are laying a new set of lines down on a known but changing world… To orientate is to hop back and forth between landscape and time, geography and emotion, knowledge and behaviour.

Stephen Hall, ‘J. Mercator’ in You Are Here 2004

This extract felt especially relevant to the purposes I had in mind for my map – to help me navigate this new chapter in my life amongst a new landscape – to destinations unknown. How to draw a map to a place not yet known that can only be imagined? I must turn to fiction and allegory, with an element of fantasy.

We need some secure oasis of order, even if only a memory (or a fiction), as a home port for our various explorations, our attempts to make sense of the unknown.

Stephen Hall, as above
Example in You Are Here

This complicated visual allegory for the Road to Success seemed highly relevant here. Beginning at the bottom left, we follow the individuals setting out in hopes of success and see them facing many obstacles and distractions along the route which snakes up a tall hill, including ‘bad habits’ and ‘shortcuts’ leading straight to the river of failure. The only assured way to get to the top is to get on the ‘right system’ train at the very beginning. This has some troubling overtones of elitism, but the illustrative representation of the narrative here, with pitfalls and a snaking path to indicate time and toil, are of interest. However, I think it is perhaps over-complicated, ominously dark and perhaps not easily grasped by the casual viewer.

Likely preceding this unknown illustration however was Madame de Scudery, who is attributed as the original creator of allegorical maps with her ‘Carte de tendre’ that features in her 1661 novel Clelie.

Here, Scudery lays out the possible routes and distractions along the course of a woman seeking to journey to ‘Tendre’ from the place of ‘New Friendship’, along the rivers of Recognition, Esteem and Inclination, or along Constant Friendship to the left (past the sea of enmity), and Goodness on the right (past the lake of indifference). Marriage was notably excluded from the map, with Scudery herself believing women should be emancipated from matrimony (as her novel’s heroine is).

As for the previous example, it is noteworthy the map is read from bottom to top, with landmarks used to denote key way markers in progress and/or key obstacles or detours to be avoided in pursuit of the destination. Not unlike a fable or moral tale, it advises the reader and cautions on what to look out for in their own life journey.

Personal Cartography: Research (pt 1)

I was interested in researching maps that form narratives. So that not only allow you to navigate for a journey, but also acts as a sort of documentation of a particular journey. This initially was to do with the maps at the beginning of fiction books, especially children’s books.

The first and most enduring of these for me, is that of the 100 acre wood in A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh

E.H.Shepard’s map illustration of the 100 acre wood in Winnie-The-Pooh 1926 (coloured 1975)

I especially like the illustrative style here, where the landscape appears flattened, distances shortened, and key elements disproportionately large so that we might recognise them when we later come across them. In a playful mode, spelling is intentionally mistaken, as though a child has written it, e.g. ‘piknicks’, and the naming conventions too are child-like and fantastical, e.g. ‘to north pole’, which is fitting for the intended audience.

Here key places, events, descriptions and characters that feature in the novel are highlighted. This is less to help us navigate the space of the 100 acre wood itself but is providing initial summary of the narrative that will unfold.

In consulting You Are Here: personal geographies and other maps of the imagination, Harmon, K., 2004 as referenced on our brief, I discovered in Hugh Brogan’s entry that Arthur Ransome (who wrote Swallows and Amazons) had a similar theory: “That pictures in a tale should be useful, not merely ornamental. They should tell the story, as fully and precisely as possible”

Map for Arthur Ransome’s 1930 Swallows and Amazons by Stephen Spurrier – included in You Are Here: Personal geographies and other maps of the imagination, Harmon, K., 2004. New York: Princetown architectural press

Here too Brogan detailed other authors who had included such maps, Tolkien, C.S.Lewis, Ursula le Guin, L. Frank Baum. It is reputed to have begun with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. What all the works of these authors have in common is the fantasy genre, and the ‘letting loose’ of the imagination to truly transport the reader to the unfamiliar. Though many too root this within the familiar.