Friday, 29 January 2016

Drawing as data visualisation.

"3 Drawings of Chess Games no.18" by Noah Gubb

The drawings of Noah Gubb remind me of a another tradition in drawing, one that has been documented in detail by Edward Tufte. This type of drawing is usually seen as being the preserve of graphic designers, but as with all visual languages it can be put to use by anyone.  These drawings by Gubb are simply visualisations of various moves in chess games, and of course this reflection on the game of chess returns us to the now familiar grid. As Rosalind Krauss stated in her seminal text 'Grids', "modernist practice continues to generate ever more instances of grids."

Data visualisation is becoming important as the Government are making more and more public bodies release the information they have on us. For instance the health service has statistics on ageing, birth, geographical location of illness, percentage of deaths occurring due to cancer, inherited conditions; local authorities are supposed to open their databases on housing, the police force on crime figures, etc. These figures can be visualised and artists can engage directly with them. 

I believe that if drawing is going to respond to what is happening now, open source data is going to be one of those areas that will provide rich material. As always these things are not new, look at this drawing (below) of Napoleon's troop numbers and their erosion during his Moscow campaign. 

Charles Minard's map of Napoleon's loss of troop numbers is a complex representation in two dimensions of six types of data: the number of Napoleon's troops, represented by a thinning line; distance, represented by the scaled map, which also includes place names and main rivers; temperature, represented by the linear graph at the bottom of the image; latitude and longitude; direction of travel, represented by beige for the outward journey and black the return; and location relative to specific dates. It also creates a remarkable 'abstract' image, this time of course the data visualised is much more about a tragic human folly, than a simple chess game. 

Aaron Koblin (above) has used data to make complex drawings based on aircraft flight patterns. Unlike Minard's diagram they include no other information, they simply show us how beautiful the patterns are, and yet these images also allow us to reflect on how interconnected we all are.   
This drawing machine (see video) was created by capturing and illustrating dozens of individuals’ heart rates, showed each person’s “unique physiological response” to their environment.

This animation (see video) is close to the way I suspect artists will be driving data visualisation in the future. As an area to work in it has the underlying rightness of geometry and a Modernist aesthetic and at the same time can be used to make clear statements about the world and the strange nature of the human condition. 

Mark Lombardi was the artist who brought the diagram of connectivity firmly into the art world. In particular, by undertaking long and intensive research into the connections between people, he was able to open out a dialogue in relation to power structures and to visualise who was related to who and who was making decisions in relation to who was holding both corporate and public money. His work crossed both art and politics, the structures of interconnection he revealed were visually beautiful, but they often revealed the dark underbelly of corporate finance. As Shakespeare would put it, there was a canker in the rose.

Mark Lombardi

This is also an area where collaboration could be used to great advantage, someone who can number crunch is needed, as well as a data manager who can explain what data means to the layperson, the artist of course can add vision into the mix. 

You dont have to be an artist to produce beautiful drawings. This sequence of drawings below are diagrams of engineering formulas, their beauty lies in their authority which comes from what I would call the 'rightness' of mathematical conviction.

The implications of this type of art are immense and if any of you are thinking of a way to extend your skill-set and make it one that will make you more employable, this is an area to get into. 

A Noah Gubb print

Before approaching this type of work read 'The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Tufte', the library has several copies. 

A research program that looks at linking visual data to art and design. I Squares

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