data as art
Kieran gave a workshop in Chicago last week. His insights were, of course, engaging. But meeting with some students afterward, their first comments had to do with how he presented his data. He got mad props for great use of color, movement and animation, and generally for wringing clarity out of empirical messiness.
Experiments with data presentation have been scarce in orgtheory. Jason Owen-Smith, Woody Powell and colleagues have produced some intriguing movies showing network formation of biotechnology in San Diego using pajek. But cool as those movies are, they don’t quite reach the visual impact of, say, the visualization of shipping traffic or taxi-cab movements in London as captured by the BBC program “Britain from Above.” Or, of the neato interactive graphic that appeared in the New York Times last year, showing the ebb and flow of box office receipts reaching back to 1986. (These and a few others were highlighted by the folks at flowingdata.com as among the best of 2008. Visualcomplexity.com is another place to go looking for data as visual art. Btw, technical info on how that NYTimes graphic was produced is found in this paper).
Geographic data is particularly amenable to artistic renditions, often with menacing overtones: for instance, visualization of Walmart spreading like a disease, or Slate’s recent look at the deterioration of the US economy.
Visualizations have been around for a while. But might the future lay in audio? For instance, re:sound, a program on Chicago Public Radio, had a story this afternoon recounting the lives of refugees who had migrated to the US. Good story. But this sound installation, called Chorus of Refuge, got my attention (scroll down and hit play on the audiofile called AfghanistanBurmaBurundiIraqSomaliaSudan). It takes the voices from the refugee interviews, modulates them both rhythmically and tonally and then coordinates them into a performance. As the presenter on the radio show put it, “the details of the refugees’ stories are different, but the arc is the same”. Sounds like logitudinal data analysis to me. I think its pretty stunning. It reminds me also of “Lost Tribes of NYC” which superimposes the voices of New Yorkers on to inanimate objects around the city (watch that video to the end).