What we talk about when we talk about data physicality

What we talk about when we talk about data physicality

What we talk about when we talk about data physicality

For the IEEE Computer Graphics & Applications journal upcoming special isssue on data physicalization, I wrote a paper on data materiality, especially focused on which concepts of data are mobilized in the data physicalization discourse and practice. 

Data physicalizations “map data to physical form,” yet many canonical examples are not based on data sets. To address this contradiction, I argue that the practice of physicalization forces us to rethink traditional notions of data. This paper proposes a conceptual framework to examine how physicalizations relate to data. This paper develops a two-dimensional conceptual space for comparing different perspectives on data used in physicalization, drawing from design theory and critical data studies literature. One axis distinguishes between epistemological and ontological perspectives, focusing on the relationship between data and the mind. The second axis distinguishes how data relate to the world, differentiating between representational and relational perspectives. To clarify the aesthetic and conceptual implications of these different perspectives, the paper discusses examples of data physicalization for each quadrant of the continuous space. It further uses the framework to examine the explicit and implicit assumptions about data in physicalization literature. As a theoretical paper, it encourages practitioners to think about how data relate to the manifestations and the phenomena they try to capture. It invites exploration of the relationship between data and the world as a generative source of creative tension.

The paper can currently be accessed as a pre-print on the arxiv server 

Autographic Visualization (IEEE VIS Paper)

Autographic Visualization (IEEE VIS Paper)

Autographic Visualization (IEEE VIS Paper)

Data by Proxy — Material Traces as Autographic Visualizations

Per definition, data visualization can only begin when data exists. As a result, the process of data collection remains mostly hidden. Visualization methods are designed to reveal patterns in data; however, many public controversies are not about what is “in” the data, but about the circumstances of data collection.

Autographic visualization is a speculative counter-model to data visualization based on the premise that data are something material rather than something abstract and symbolic. The design operations of autographic visualization aim to set the conditions that allow material phenomena to reveal themselves — as physical traces or environmental indicators. The design of autographic or self-registering devices has a long history that is closely connected to the history of data visualization. Today, autographic visualization can be used to make the process of data collection more legible and accountable. The comparison between the two models allows probing the epistemic assumptions behind information visualization and uncovers linkages with the rich history of scientific visualization and trace reading.

link to IEEE VIS paper
VISAP pictorial

Ozone Tattoo

Ozone Tattoo

Ozone Tattoo

Partners: Dr. Vehram Elagoz, Lesley University, Dr. Kent Burkey, USDA ARS Maryland

Among other issues, climate change leads to an increase in ground-level ozone, a pollutant with harmful impacts on plants, animals, and humans. Ozone tattoo is an autographic visualization project that uses ozone-sensitive plants as bio-indicators to visualize ozone pollution. Ozone tattoos are damage patterns on the surface of the leaves created by localized exposure to ozone. These damage patterns allow decoding the impact of the pollutant through visual comparison with the healthy portions of the leaf.

The project is based on the established citizen science approach of planting ozone gardens, which allow communities to monitor pollution by observing plants that are sensitive to ozone. One of the indicator plants used in the project, the tobacco plant, has historical significance for Massachusetts and its history of industrialization. Until the early 1920s, western Massachusetts was a center of tobacco production, the source of high-quality cigar wrappers. One factor that ended this thriving industry was the adverse effect of ground-level ozone resulting from industrialization. Tobacco plants are highly sensitive to ozone and show visible damage already at low concentrations. This sensitivity makes the plants an excellent bio-indicator that is often used in ozone garden projects.

Exhibition at the Cambridge Council of the Arts

Staubmarke (dustmark)

Staubmarke (dustmark)

Staubmarke (dustmark)

Staubmarke is a public space installation for the Drehmoment Festival in Stuttgart – a city affected by airborne particulate matter pollution.  Controversies between public health advocates, the city, and the local industry often manifest in disputes about proper methods of measurement and the veracity of citizen-collected data.

The project visualizes air pollution by calling attention to the patina on the city’s surfaces. The dustmarks are executed as reverse graffitis, making the accumulated pollution visible by partially removing it. By calling attention to dust as a material rather than an abstract value, the project contextualizes the sensor measurements with their physical basis.

Over the following months, the dustmarks will fade, as new dust will accumulate in the cleared areas of sign. Ultimately, the project is about the limits of objectivity – just as the dustmarks are no accurate representation of pollution exposure, the quantitative metrics are subject to political debates and at the same time only able to capture a limited aspect of the complex phenomenon of particulate matter.

Project website: http://dust.zone

In collaboration with Luftdaten.info, thanks to Lara Roth, Jan Lutz, Michael Saup, Pierre-Jean Gueno, Annekatrin Baumann/HLRS, Fa. Diezel

Paper: Maps of Daesh

Paper: Maps of Daesh

Paper: Maps of Daesh

The Cartographic Warfare Surrounding Insurgent Statehood 

The ongoing Syrian civil war raises new cartographic challenges, including the ethical question of how the self-proclaimed Islamic State should be represented. States and news organizations face a conundrum: by mapping IS territory, they implicitly acknowledge its statehood. I investigate how different mapping methods carry different connotations for representing the strength and nature of the terror state, arguing that the statehood the IS is symbolically contested through cartographic choices that reflect the diverging interests of map makers.

Based on a comparative study, this article investigates the visual languages of IS sanctuary maps as published by news agencies, intelligence agencies, or circulated by the insurgents themselves. I argue that the statehood of territory held by the IS is symbolically contested through cartographic choices that reflect the diverging interests of the map makers. Beyond official representations, the article also considers the maps created by amateur conflict mappers and visual forensics experts, who extract and cross-reference information from social media including posted cell phone and drone footage, georeferenced tweets, and satellite images. I argue that the novel visual strategies developed by these practitioners for presenting visual evidence emphasize nonrepresentational aspects of cartography and represent a countermodel to established cartographic languages that follows an indexical rather than iconic or symbolic paradigm. 

Link    Pdf      Link to the Map Archive 

Pdf with original figures from the paper 

Tracings of original images by Azam Majooni