Databases, data visualization, and mapping
In the digital age, the concept of ‘disembodiment’ does not only apply to our physical body but also to notions of the object and materiality in general. Information itself to a large extent seems to have lost its ‘body’, becoming an abstract ‘quality’ that can make a fluid transition between different states of materiality. While the ultimate ‘substance’ o information remains arguable, it is safe to say that data are not necessarily attached to a specific form of manifestation. Information and data sets are intrinsically virtual, that is, they exist as processes and are not necessarily visible or graspable, such as the transferral and transmission of data via networks. The meaningfulness of data relies on possibilities of filtering the information and creating some form of organizing structure or ‘map’ – be it mental or visual – that can allow for orientation. Static methods of representing data-charting, graphing, sorting, etc., have been established over centuries. Since the advent of digital technologies, ‘information spaces’ and the creation of visual models that allow for a dynamic visualization of any kind of data flow have become a broad field of experimentation and research, be it science, statistics, architecture, design, digital art, or any combination of these. p.174
Using postcards as a readymade expression and trace of cultural memory, (George) Legrady creates a narrative evironment that transcends the sum of its parts, reflecting both on the construction of narration and mediated memory. Legrady’s ‘Pockets Full of Memories’, an installation with an accompanying website, which was shown at the Centre Pompidou 2001, invites visitors to digitally scan an object in their possession at a scanning station and answer a set of questions regarding the object. An algorithm classifies the scanned objects in a two-dimensional map based on similarities in their descriptions. Users can review each object’s data and add their own personal comments and stories. The result of the project is a growing map of possible relations between items that range from the merely functional to a signifier of personal value. The mapping of these objects points to the potentiality and absurdities of classifying objects endowed with personal meaning. The project operates on the threshold between logical classification and meanings that are not quantifiable.
On the inherent characteristics of digital art is the tension between the strictly linear and hierarchical structure of instructions, data sets, databases and the Internet’s territory (as a multitude of servers with hierarchical directories) and the seemingly infinite possibilities for reproducing and reconfiguring the information contained within these structures. p.178-179
A number of locative media projects have focused on mapping existing physical spaces and architectures. PDPal (2003) by Marina Zurkow, Scott Paterson, and Julian Bleecker, for example, is a mapping tool (a Web interface and application downloadable to one’s PDA) for recording personal experiences of public space, more specifically, the Times Square area in New York City and the Twin Cities, Minnesota. Users create maps by marking locations with little graphic symbols and giving them attributes and ratings. While the categories for mapping are relatively structured, the prescription of certain categories or meta-tags also makes it easier to map contributions more effectively. PDPal is inspired by the idea of emotional geographies and the concept of psychogeography – the study of effects of the geographical environment on individuals’ emotions and behaviours – which was developed by the Situationists, a political and artistic moment that emerged in the late 1950s. p. 216-219