Data Visualization: Materiality and Mediation

Speaker: 
Sara Diamond
Dates: 
Monday, 19 September, 2011 - 10:45 - 11:45
This talk will discuss data visualization aesthetics within a history of scientific realism, design teleology, disclosing tensions in representing the empirical world and its structures with experimental and revelatory practices. The potential of instrumental and intrinsic expression are presented through contemporary examples of an emerging field. It will end with an overview of my current research in visualizing large bodies of text data, searching for influence and emotional expression.

The video documentation of Sara Diamond's keynote speech the Data Visualization: Materiality and Mediation at ISEA2011 is available online in five parts. Please click on the the following links for Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V.

“Data” are a mediation of actual phenomena – an immaterial material – a contradictory trajectory of abstract points or numbers and producing phenomena. Data comprise a set of organized measurements created by instruments that calibrate quantifiable qualities of original source or sources (natural, artificial or recombinant).

The act of design – a fundamentally subjective act creates the interface between these forces– whether created by designer, animators, computer scientists (or bioinformatics scientists) or artists create the interfaces that allow interaction with data. In this sense data visualization can be compared to any other creative practice that works with a material that has specific structural qualities and manipulates it within a limited context. The materiality of data (its semiotics) could be compared to the materiality of text – its structure, syntax forming meaning as much as content, but always acting as an abstraction of actual experience.  Yet both act back on the world.    Given that sensory expression – most often visual, sometimes sonic or tactile – is the only means to perceive many contemporary data sets aesthetics are fundamental, not additive to the emerging field of data visualization.  Aesthetics play out within mediation. Aesthetics structure experiences in formal perceptual ways and provide interpretive tools fundamental to constructing meaning. The field of Data Visualization contains aesthetic practices that draw from art, design, computer and information science and the sciences.

Data visualizations carry with them the aesthetics and assumptions of their contributing technology. Data visualization technologies absorb aesthetics of 2D and 3D graphics and animation systems, with their formal styles and malleability.  In the past decade a new set of graphics tools - some viable for online visualization, others only available through super computer networks or in the laboratory - are available, as either open source (such as Processing) or proprietary software. The more finished the tool the more that styles and capacities are embedded. Each new source of data adds its structure, aesthetic properties and limits.

Understandings of how to treat data as a material play out in the making of visualizations. For example Edward Tufte argues that data visualization requires choosing data sets that are of value to the researcher, mining the data, creating a structure for the data, analyzing that data set to find meaningful ways to represent it, analyzing patterns, translating the analysis through aesthetic representation, refining the representation to better communicate, and creating means of manipulating the data. In Tufte’s view, data enunciate their own structures. There is no base case with data; it is inductive reasoning that pulls out knowledge. Through this process they find form, and sometimes also find metaphor or narrative. This may be viewed as data naturalism, structuralism, bearing a truth to materials approach, or, in working with large-scale data sets representing phenomena that cannot be viewed, data-driven design.

This talk will discuss data visualization aesthetics within a history of scientific realism, design teleology, disclosing tensions in representing the empirical world and its structures with experimental and revelatory practices. The potential of instrumental and intrinsic expression are presented through contemporary examples of an emerging field. It will end with an overview of my current research in visualizing large bodies of text data, searching for influence and emotional expression. 

Bio

Dr. Sara Diamond is the President of the OCAD University, Canada’s “university of the imagination”. She holds a PhD in Computer Science and degrees in new media theory and practice, social history and communications. While retaining OCAD University's traditional strengths in art and design, she has led her university to become a leader in digital media and design research and curriculum through the Digital Futures Initiative, towards new research in Inclusive Design and health and design, as well as in sustainable technologies and design. She has also led OCAD University to begin the unique Aboriginal Visual Culture Program. She currently serves on the Ontario Ministry of Culture’s Minister’s Advisory Council on Arts & Culture, the Board of Directors of the Toronto Arts Council Foundation and ORANO, Ontario’s high speed network, the board of National Centre of Excellence GRAND and IO (Interactive Ontario) and SACUR with the Association of Universities and University Colleges. She is founding Chair of the Mobile Experience Innovation Centre and current co-chair (with RBC).She is a visualization, wearable technology and mobile media researcher, artist and designer. She is co-principle investigator on the Centre for Information Visualization/Data Driven Design, an OCADU/York University major initiative. Diamond was the Artistic Director of Media and Visual Art and Director of Research at the Banff Centre, where she created the Banff New Media Institute (BNMI) in 1995 and led it until 2005. In this role she assisted with the development, incubation and support for many of Canada's leading new media companies. Diamond created and was Editor-in-Chief of www.horizonzero.ca, an on-line showcase for new media art and design, in collaboration with Heritage Canada and The Banff Centre.  At the Banff Centre she created international think tanks and collaborations in ICT, digital media and science research with artists, designers and scientists from Latin America, Africa, Asia, Central and Western Europe and the USA, as well as Canada. She developed www.codezebra.net, a performance and media art, fashion and software collaboration environment. Diamond continues to write about digital media history, digital media and design strategy for peer reviewed journals and curates for festivals and galleries.