Virtual Weaving and Approaching Visual Data

After our class discussion on intersectional feminist technologies, I was struck by the way in which the mediation of data influenced our interpretation. TheGirlEffect’s “Case Study: HarrassMap – Changing Attitudes to Harassment and Assault in Egypt” worked as visual data by connecting research with illustrations, graphs, and an accessible/educational aesthetic. Though we commented on the fact that 55% of the reported incidents were enacted by women and small children (a mistake in the data perhaps?) what I want to take away from this particular text is its effort to connect design and academic research. This is not a new concept, and our readings for this week illustrate the great achievements and limitations of data visualization.

In her article “What Would Feminist Data Visualization Look Like?” for MIT Center for Civic Media, Catherine D’Ignazio states that:

“An expert designer or team with specialized knowledge finds some data, does some wizardry and presents their artifact to the world with some highly prescribed ways to view it. Can we imagine an alternate way to include more voices in the conversation? Could we effect visualization collectively, inclusively, with dissent and contestation, at scale?”

This question really stuck with me in attempting to think about a visualization for the research we will inevitably conduct for our final group project. While it is most likely (and most sensical) that the data dictates the form in which such a visualization manifests, I still want to engage/play with different concepts that could possibly help point towards a research question.

In talking about manifestos, I began thinking about the spoken word. The last time I went to a poetry reading, I noticed many of the people in attendance scrolling through Instagram/Facebook/Snapchat etc. while the poet spoke. Vision has taken precedence over the other senses. As Donna Haraway so masterfully describes it:

The eyes have been used to signify a perverse capacity – honed to perfection in the history of science tied to militarism, capitalism, colonialism, and male supremacy – to distance the knowing subject from everybody and everything in the interests of unfettered power. The instruments of visualization in multinationalist, postmodernist culture have compounded these meanings of disembodiment.

The visualizing technologies are without apparent limit. The eye of any ordinary primate like us can be endlessly enhanced by sonography systems, magnetic resonance imaging, artificial intelligence-linked graphic manipulation systems, scanning electron microscopes, computed tomography scanners, color-enhancement techniques, satellite surveillance systems, home and office video display terminals, cameras for every purpose from filming the mucous membrane lining the gut cavity of a marine worm living in the vent gases on a fault between continental plates to mapping a planetary hemisphere elsewhere in the solar system.

Vision in this technological feast becomes unregulated gluttony; all seems not just mythically about the god trick of seeing everything from nowhere, but to have put the myth into ordinary practice. And like the god trick, this eye fucks the world to make techno-monsters.

— Donna Haraway in “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective/Feminist Studies” (1988).

So while it is necessary to consider structuring our project around research presented in some sort of visual way, the issues of accessibility, the evocation of hegemonic symbols (whether intentional or not), or isolating audience members who feel omitted (culturally, or via any number of identity markers) are all possible obstacles in communicating ideas visually. The visual, in being ubiquitous, helps us to connect our ideas to an aesthetic object that audiences enjoy and are familiar with (such as a video demonstrating how caring and wonderful humans can be). This is negated, however, by the fact that their familiarity with visual objects is also connected with negative affects (the video demonstrating how cruel and oppressive humans can be).

So while I am determined to incorporate the visual into our final project, I also want to investigate the idea of interactivity as well.

Margaret Morse’s chapter “The Poetics of Interactivity” can help to guide from the precedence of the image towards a more dynamic approach to data visualization: “One interacts by touching, moving, speaking, gesturing, or another corporeal means of producing a sign that can be read and transformed into input by a computer” (19)

Perhaps using images in addition to providing an interactive space for which to do so (an idea of a choose-your-own-adventure in relation to interacting with our caring media was mentioned in class) would allow our research to go beyond the double-edgedness of the image (good + bad associations).

This led me to think about weaving sound and image together.

IMG_3133My favorite item is a pillow that my partner wove for me last year. I have no training in textiles, nor do I have any of the equipment or materials necessary to produce such a piece. Instead I decided to attempt to weave together images (all of which were taken on my iPhone), a recording (made using the software Logic), and a superimposed Lissajous figure–I will explain what that is momentarily).

Because I was not able to produce a tactile experience, I wanted to complicate the notion of the visual as data. In order to do this, I used a digital goniometer to create a visual representation of my audio’s stereo image (also called a Lissajous figure).

In this first video, I demonstrate how I record audio into Logic and then display the stereo image of the audio using the goniometer.

(WARNING: STROBING IMAGRY) The video 8 again contains flashing light, please do not watch if you are sensitive to such sensations.

After figuring out the basics of how to capture the image of audio, I began playing with it in iMovie. The idea of weaving images and sound together became my solution to the dominance of the visual in contemporary culture. With the stereo image of the audio in the foreground, it calls attention to itself and to the fact that we are programmed to focus on the visual.

How can this work for our manifesto(s)?

I am going to bring in my recording equipment to our seminars each week (a single condenser microphone and a USB interface) and, if we think it could be beneficial, record our voices. Our voices can be visually shown using the same technique I employed for the two videos attached. Whether this means reading specific sentences from our manifestos, laughing into the microphone, or even telling stories–the idea is that sound should be a part of a data “visualization”.

Though my videos do not visualize data (as we have not conducted any research yet), I find that weaving together images and sounds that mean something to me is a form that could produce interesting results outside of standard academic procedures. What might this look like if real woven work were presented along side it? What would the tactile offer this experience? To not give precedence to any of the senses, and offer an encounter with our idea that provides the full range of sensual experience could be quite moving.

Going back to Catherine D’Ignazio’s question: “Can we imagine an alternate way to include more voices in the conversation? Could we effect visualization collectively, inclusively, with dissent and contestation, at scale?” Is this a possible answer? What would visualizing voices in the community do? What would making videos that coincide with our research accomplish? Does this do enough to get us out of Haraway’s reading of the visual? How do we incorporate this within a framework of interactivity?

I have a lot of questions.

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