A City for Humans
This installation proposal is for an interactive digital diorama installed into a terminal or arcade machine at the conference. Titled “A City For Humans”, this project allows the public to collaboratively build a dynamic, shifting landscape together by typing single words on a keyboard. This text is then parsed for 3000+ common nouns and verbs, which are then immediately populated into the city as visual objects, represented by hand-drawn tiles.
For example, if a person types the words tree and rain, each would translate to an individual tile that is placed in the world. Writing a word like ‘tree’ makes one. Verbs- like rain- cause an action, like a small rainstorm forming over part of the city. The visitor to the space can simply type these single words, or can choose to tell more narrative stories (eg- ‘a pine tree is standing in a rainstorm’), which will be parsed similarly. This way, each contribution is given living form in the diorama.
Each type of object also has specific rules that govern its behavior. For example, groups of related plants like to form around one another, and will populate particular regions rather than scattering randomly across the landscape. Roads, sidewalks, fences, hedges, and aqueducts form in linear rows, while plants, buildings, and detritus clump together more organically.
Furthermore, intelligent things like people and animals have sets of shifting needs and desires. A person may be thirsty or hungry, but may also desire more abstract things, like excitement, or beauty. These entities have freedom of movement, and will seek out objects that meet these needs, like a well (for thirst) or a field of flowers (for beauty). In this way, these placed people, animals, and plants will go about their daily business, reacting to one another and the world around them as it changes.
Rather than attempting to distill, abstract, or pare-down community data, “A City for Humans” is a 1:1 interaction with those who choose to engage with it. However, this engagement is not temporary- much like real investment in place, the changes that are made to the digital city persist over time, influencing the digital world for the indefinite future.
The project’s central goal is to foster a sense of community by providing a quiet but responsive platform to collaboratively build a beautiful space together.
We are also dedicated to producing visualization systems that prioritize ‘small data’- in a world of big-data visualization, we also need generous and playful networked systems that respond to the individual, the hyper-local, and the immediate. This project maintains that data-visualization is not inherently an abstraction, a reduction, or an illustration. Rather, it can be a specific and responsive exchange that facilitates play, experimentation, joy, and a sense of place.
Data Beyond Vision
1Princeton University, United States of America; 2Pratt Institute, United States of America
Data visualization is frequently used in Digital Humanities for exploration, analysis, making an argument, or grappling with large-scale data. Increasing access to off-the-shelf data visualization tools is beneficial to the field, but it can lead to homogenized visualizations.
Data physicalization has potential to defamiliarize and refresh the insight that data visualizations initially brought to DH. Proliferation in 3D modeling software and relatively affordable 3D printing technology makes iterative, computer-generated data physicalization more feasible. Working in three dimensions gives additional affordances: parallel data series can be seen next to each other, rather than color-coded, overlapped, or staggered; and physical objects can be viewed from multiple angles, allowing for changing perspective.
Data visualization necessarily privileges sight. Participants can experience data through sensing — feel, touch, hear. Touch is particularly significant, since, like sight, it is a meta-sense and because it affords intimacy, as feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray has discussed. By foregrounding sensory experience and embodiment, we will challenge conference participants to consider other approaches for engaging with and representing humanistic data. Multimodal data explorations incorporating touch and sound can offer new possibilities of accessibility to those with low vision (for example, see the #DataViz4theBlind project). Spatial, acoustic, and temporal dimensions of data representation can generate rich narratives, invite the audience to explore new relationships, and turn passive consumption into a sensory experience that encourages interpretation. In addition, creating data physicalizations is a form of critical making; the iterative and reflective process requires more time to engage with the data, including the human aspects represented.
The final multimedia installation will display descriptions of the methods and processes alongside the final data physicalization objects and dynamic displays. By foregrounding sensory experience and embodiment, we offer an opportunity to explore humanities data meant to challenge conference participants to consider other approaches for engaging with and representing humanistic data. We are inspired by the work of Lauren Klein and Catherine D’Ignazio, who encourage a reorientation toward the emotional and affective qualities in our engagement with data. In employing physicalization as a technique to corporealize and “re-humanize” humanities data, we follow the ethical principles articulated by the Colored Conventions Project to “contextualize and narrate the conditions of the people who appear as ‘data’ and to name them when possible.”
Pieces in the installation will utilize space, time, and/or interaction to provide new ways of engaging with a dataset and the arguments and narratives behind it, in order to challenge the dominant paradigms of conventional screen-based data visualization.
Provisional list of pieces:
3D printed model of library member activity over time from the Shakespeare and Company Project, juxtaposing documented activities from two sets of archival materials
Folded paper models for individual membership timelines from the Shakespeare and Company Project, allowing attendees to select a library member and fold a model based on their data, allowing the recovery of women and and non-famous members.
A weaving representing intertextuality based on references in Jacques Derrida’s de la Grammatologie from Derrida’s Margins
The Cybernetics Library: Revealing Systems of Exclusion
1Cybernetics Library; 2Avant.org; 3Princeton University Libraries; 4School for Poetic Computation; 5Prime Produce Apprenticeship Cooperative; 6Fordham University; 7Columbia University GSAPP
We propose a 4-day installation of a physical library collection, digital interface, and software simulation system. We are a research/practice collective that explores, examines, and critiques the history and legacy of cybernetic thought via the reciprocal embeddedness of techno-social systems and contemporary society. This installation’s intention is to examine and expose to users patterns of systemic bias latent within those systems and their use. The collection will be housed in custom-built, secure furniture and made accessible to all attendees of the conference.
Our collective is comprised of members from a diverse set of backgrounds and practices, including art, architecture, technology, publication, librarianship, gender studies, media/cultural studies, cooperatives, fabrication, design, simulation, queer studies, and more. We work on the project independent of institutional affiliations, but have had numerous successful collaborations, and were the organizers of an independent but highly successful conference, from which our ongoing project emerged.
From this outsider position, our project seeks to refigure and make more accessible the relationships between people, technologies, and society. The project has been manifested through activities such as community-oriented artistic installations, reading groups, workshops, and other public programs. The project also incorporates ongoing development of tools, platforms, and systems for enhancing, deepening, and extending engagement with the knowledge it organizes and to which it provides access. The project aspires to support its collaborators and users by serving as a connecting node for disparate communities that share intellectual or activist goals for exploring and advancing art, technology, and society.
The first version of the software simulation system used cataloging data to form associations between the usage histories of users of the library system, as well as linking content from works accessed during the initial conference to the topics presented by the speakers (in the context of a multi-layered visual representation). Another system, part of an installation at a program around the theme of "uncomputability", prompted users to participate in the construction of a collective poem by scanning in books from the collection which had meaningful associations for them. Another highly interactive implementation allowed users to engage their practices of sharing knowledge through metaphors of gardening: cultivation, care, attention, and community.
Our installations have been featured by The Queens Museum, The Distributed Web Summit by The Internet Archive, The School For Poetic Computation, Prime Produce, The Current Museum, vTaiwan, and Storefront for the Commons.
While the specific implementation of the installation for the ACH conference is still in preliminary stages of development, we are building on the themes of direct engagement, and collective, emergent explorations of structures of knowledge that can reveal hidden assumptions and biases latent in our approaches to technology and society. Based on our history of successful, memorable installations and collaborations, we are confident that this installation will contribute a valuable critical, conceptual, and technological resource the conference. We hope to produce an ecology for new collaborations, unexpected encounters, and deeper explorations of the themes and methods of the conference, and would be happy to be able to provide more detail soon.