Data Visualization Poetics

Abstract (in English): 

In the field of networks and big data, data visualization has become very popular in recent years. Scientists, artists, and software designers are working collaboratively using elaborate ways to communicate data, and visual design is playing a substantial role by making the language of science more accessible and comprehensible, through visualisations, in the form of infographics, sculptural objects, installations, sonifications and applications. But why this current outburst? Is it because of the availability of open data? The approachability of visual design? The need for new analytic methodologies in the digital humanities? Or, the fact that it is part of our collective consciousness?

This paper deals with the above questions and has evolved, as a practice-based research, in conjunction with the practical part, a mobile application designed to run on an iPad2 / iPad mini or later models. This work was created specifically for the SILT exhibition, hosted in Hamburg, Germany in June 2014.

I took this exhibition as an opportunity to research the city of Hamburg and discovered that it had one of the largest ports in the world; its name Gateway to the World (GttW) seemed like a great title for the app. The vast and busy port served as a metaphor for the immensity of the Internet, the flow of information and its meaning of openness and outreach to the World Wide Web.

The aim of the app was to use open data from the maritime databases to visualise the routes of the vessels arriving to and from the Port of Hamburg, as well as have the vessels’ names mapped to Wikipedia entries. As the vessels move they act as writing tools to reveal a string of text creating calligramatic forms of information pulled from Wikipedia entries about the name of the vessels.

The information gathered from these entries generates a remix of text going from presenting factual information about vessels (containers, cargo ships, tankers, high speed crafts) to describing their names connecting them to characters in literary works, plays and mythological stories.

Further questions addressed as part of the ongoing research process are: How is this current fascination with data visualisation to be understood? How can open data be used as the raw material for creative projects? How can graphic design, programming, and aesthetics be used to analyse databases? What contribution can design bring to the Digital Humanities in general and more specifically to the field where art, language, and digital technologies intersect, such as in electronic literature?

It is with projects like this that Electronic literature serves as a means to explore open data as cultural material, as a way to instigate new forms of communication to discuss social and political issues and bring transparency through hybrid forms of visual art, language and technological advances. GttW in particular explores new territories to develop electronic literature. These include the investigation of open data in the creation of data visualisation poetics, e-calligrams, new literacies, networked multimodal textualities and online and mobile platforms for writing, publication and dissemination purposes.

For documentation of the work see following Website:

(source: ELO 2015 Conference Catalog)

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Record posted by: 
Hannah Ackermans