Manovich sees data visualization as a subset of mapping and visualization as quantified data that is not visual into a visual representation. The most sense we can make of that as part of the human condition is through the four dimensions of space (x, y and z) and time. However, the challenge of that is most data doesn't tuck comfortably into those four categories, so it is up to designers and clients to choose which to omit or consolidate and how then to map those dimensions.

He refers to the term "meta-media" which is re-mapping old media objects into new structures, which also allows the media to be mapped into a different dimension.

Meta-media fits within the "modern key aesthetic paradigms"-according to Manovich- of postmodernism and globalization- defining it as the "remix between culture and computers".

The most prominent of all points in this deluge of re-mapping old media into new structures- is the ethical considerations that designers, clients, developers, producers- "radical dj's" as Manovich suggests- must constantly be re-evaluating so as not to reduce or minimize cultural experience into a singular image or sound bite for the sake of aesthetics.

Visualization & Mapping

In this first section, Manovich describes dynamic data visualization as one of several new cultural forms enabled by computing. He argues that the computational power and display capability provided by the computer enable us to perform all sorts of new techniques on larger and more complex sets of data. He also describes visualization as dimensionality reduction problem. I suppose these may be fairly obvious points but it I like the succinct encapsulation here. He goes on to describe the “politics” of mapping in computer culture. Who gets to decide which dimensions are important to show, and to what retinal variables ought they to be mapped towards? By asking the question we can at least be more aware of where this authority/power resides.

Media + Software = Meta Media

Manovich begins with a definition of mapping here. Examples include mapping from 3D to 2D space or vice versa. Or representational art works. Or creating “meta media” – e.g. film stills from a movie which allow us to explore something in a unique way. Manovich provides a lovely example of Adobe PDF reader as a kind of media “remix” with VCR controls, zoom tools, print interface elements, GUI elements, etc. I found this interesting and realized how much I likely take for granted.

Data Modernism

Manovich here provides many examples of visualization mapping and the popularity there-of. He discusses computation as a focus of individual art pieces, and holds John Simon work in high regard, as several pieces exhibit (paraphrasing here) a ‘beginning but no end’ – they update in real-time. Comparisons here are made between artists perhaps decades ago capturing modern metropolitan ‘chaos’ as geometric forms vs. modern coders capturing network traffic into ‘more clear and orderly’ forms. Cites Mondrian as reducer of dimensionality.

Meaningful Beauty – Mapping as Anti Sublime

Manovich compares the goals of Romantic art – e.g. capturing the other-worldly, unknown, or sublime vs. data visualization – making everything comprehendible and within human cognition capabilities. E.g. reduce all of “cyberspace” to a single browser frame. I might agree this is the current state of data visualization but certainly I think the earlier Drucker readings challenges us to go beyond this reduction and further into the subjective, the humanities (which I will refer to here meaning arts & letters). Certainly the pursuit of the humanities is the pursuit of wisdom, which is the pursuit of the sublime?

Mapping Motivations:
Manovich highlights that with unlimited complexity (dimensionality) in the world, and a seemingly unlimited set of combinations of mapping targets – its easy to infer that these choices may appear random unless thoughtful care is given.
Manovich suggests we can learn from 60s surrealists “navigate Paris with a London Map’. He actually then cites concept close to Drucker’s – the need to represent personal subjective experience within a data society.

On Manovich's account of data visualization's representation of the anti-sublime, it did seem fitting that data visualization should both renounce and return to prior practices of representing phenomenon.

I agree that it does perform the acrobatics of returning to a tangible representation of a thing, albeit now turning our attention to things previously perceived as transcendental of human explication.

From this view, I see data visualization not as anti-sublime, although the use of the term is eyecatching, but as uber-sublime.

Data visualization seems to be a vehicle from which you can make patterns, realities, truths that seemed humanly ungraspable ironically common-sense, within our field of vision.

Where "übermenschlich means super-human, in the sense of beyond human strength or out of proportion to humanity" (Wikipedia) -- as I understand it, not "superhuman" as you would correlate with a Superman or Batman, but as in an extended or augmented human faculty -- data visualization could challenge the idea that there are phenomenon that transcend human perception, or that are sublime. The term referenced carries with it some notions of ideas that could go terribly awry from an evolutionary perspective.

From the media-culture advancement perspective, however, I do see visualization creating, designing novel ways human beings map information cognitively. It was very interesting when Manovich brought up visualization embracing meta-media in its performances, thereby bringing in other dimensions of information into the physical.

This question of how multi-dimensional visualization can impact our current arrangement with information interpretation and dissemination that I find most intriguing - more so than Manovich's other probes such as who and how/why are visualization strategies employed.

Manovich dedicates a section of his essay on The Anti Sublime to the concept of 'meta-media' - artefacts of older media, adapted and transformed into distinctly new forms. He views the phenomenon as transformative within the cultural sphere, but stops before discussing the ensuing implications in terms of a shared, intersubjective reality- something particularly relevant given some of the contexts we now find ourselves in, with meta-media totally supplanting our direct interaction with their original referents.

While reading this section I kept circling back to Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulations, in which the author makes the case that the contemporary social fabric is now totally founded on interactions with a network of symbols- infinitely and recursively propagating stand-ins and representations of previously real content. The eventual effect of this proliferation, it is argued, is to erase the original, to the point that the real is replaced with the 'hyperreal'. Cultural simulations, originally faithful to real referents, twist first into perversions of their reality, before giving way to a web of circularly defined models with no tie to a grounding reality. They veil that reality's irrelevance to the social world in their deemphasis of the original, and in their infinite mutability:

Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the
territory - precession of simulacra - it is the map that engenders the territory and if we were to revive the fable today, it would be the territory whose shreds are slowly rotting
across the map. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges subsist here and there, in the deserts which are no longer those of the Empire, but our own. The desert of the real

In his four essays, Lev Manovich offers a discussion of data visualization (defined a narrow subset of 'mapping' where non-visual data is mapped to an image) in the cultural sphere. He poses questions and arguments around what makes data visualization art compelling, and what makes it art itself, while giving examples of compelling works that provide aesthetic beauty and evoke an emotional response in the audience. His perspective is an interesting account of one of the many uses for data visualization, and I find his explanation of this field's close relationship with both science and art particularly interesting.

His account of computer software's (as 'new media') use in the context of old media frames his account of meta-media. Meta-media objects have both language (the original media structure) and meta-language (software tools that allow us to interact with this media in a new way, while keeping the media and content itself intact). He argues that software creating visualizations that can poke into existing media in profoundly new ways to offer new perspectives and ask new questions is the most compelling applications of this technology in the cultural sphere:

More complex and unusual mappings are also possible - and the search for such new mappings that allow us to access old media objects in new ways congruent with information interfaces we use in our everyday life - represents one of the most fruitful research directions in new media art.

His example, which we looked at in class, of Mamber splitting each frame of a film into individual images, is a particularly compelling use case. This creative approach to technology application allows us to see the entirety of a film in one digestible image, evaluating what understanding or emotion this image evokes in us, and what it lacks.

While meta-media harnesses artifacts and outputs of media existing before or outside the realm of computer software, data modernism harnesses these developments in order to use the computer to create art that focuses on computation itself. The most compelling piece presented to me was Jevbrat's 1:1 project, which compiled active IP-addresses into a centralized database and visualized this information in different ways. The abstract and oddly beautiful 'every' rendition was my personal favorite, which shows the entire (potentially never-ending) web in one image, evoking a drastically different experience than using a typical browser. With the color and order of each pixel dictated in a programmatic but seemingly arbitrary way (based on digits in the IP address itself), the outcomes fittingly evokes thoughts of an old TV screen losing its color and focus.

Finally, Manovich explains how data visualization art subscribes to an 'anti-sublime' ideal. Rooted in science, this field strives to present the complex and unintelligible in forms that are digestible and palatable to observers. Both Jevbrat and Mamber's project are emblematic of this ideal - mapping grandiose data as far reaching as the internet and presenting them in a packaged and interpretable (and interactive) images.

Tying all these concepts together are the political and conscious choices designers make in constructing these visualizations. Emblematic of topics covered by Drucker, Manovich understands that choices and trade-offs need to be made in presenting specific data (that often contain more than the four dimensions we can conceptualize), just as Drucker explains that all data and visualizations are abstractions of reality that present a specific narrative. While I like Manovich's idea to present the arbitrary nature of some of these decisions made in data mapping front and center, which I find very poetic, I do not necessarily buy his arguments regarding the Jewish Museum in Berlin. After some brief research the design and architecture of this building feel incredibly precise, with practically no decision being made arbitrarily. Manovich's lack of perspective or understanding of why the architect decided to project the mappings of Jewish connections in Berlin on the faces of the building's wall does not mean that these nets were "randomly scattered over the shapes of the building". I find it hard that dedicated and detail-oriented designers or architects would allow unmotivated mappings to pervade their works. However, the decisions these designers (especially data viz designers) make should be highlighted and discussed, since the perception that any chart shows hard and fast truths should be confronted and combated.

In "The Anti-Sublime Ideal in New Media" Manovich wastes no time in building the foundation of his argument. A key distinction is that between data visualization and mapping. While the former is a visualization of specifically quantified data transformed into a visual representation, the latter should be regarded conceptually as a super-domain where the prime distinction is that the the specific method of translation is dynamic. Echoing Drucker, he notes that this mapping as an act of will has an associated political dimension. That is, the practitioner has not only the power to decide what kind of mapping to use, but additionally, as there are usually more dimensions of information then those which humans can readily apprehend, they get to mediate what data we have access to and its associated interface. The word "political" here feels like a bit of a catch-all which I would love to hear Manovich elaborate on, since alone, it is both powerful yet ambiguous. Unfortunately, no clarification was forthcoming.
As in other readings he argues that software is unique in media. It is both dynamic and can be applied simultaneously as media and the meta-language of the media. This allows both form and information to be modified/remapped almost at a whim (an issue he returns to later) This is exemplified by "meta-media" projects ranging from film remapping to virtual opera. It is this quality of meta-medianess imbued by the mapping that, while keeping the information of the original work, allows us new ways of interacting with it. Implicitly, this assertion does not regard the original film's format as part of its "information", which is an unclarified choice on his part. But again, the new interface, remapping, and the core content create a new experience. Additionally, this experience is in no way static but relative to time, location, or the user's desire, can be dynamically created (therefore manifesting differently) each viewing. One possible result, he argues is the ability to mash-up interfaces as is the case with Adobe Acrobat which in turn draws from many disciplines and objects (books, image editing, VCRs, etc.) to frame its meta-language and data-accessibility choices.
This said, his argument starts. Artists who leverage software and engage in the creation of this meta-media are becoming tool creators. They have entered the domain of software developers and by providing software frameworks in a way that has been regarded historically as the exclusive domain of computer engineers. To the degree that such visualizations are an end, this "tak[ing] what normally falls outside the scale of human senses" and "mak[ing] it visible and manageable" aligns these artists with modern science. Science however is directed. The goal of visualization is greater intelligibility. With art however a lack of intelligibility (if you can call it that) manifests as a perception that the mapping choices were arbitrary and superficial when greater meaning or understandability was the implied goal. An effect, Manovich argues, is only heightened when the artist tries to hide the fact. He therefore suggests that, if any arbitrariness exists, that it be foregrounded. While DV in science has a particular definition of meaningfulness, art has the option to go beyond this in an attempt to represent a personal subjective experience. This is what he terms the "Anti-Sublime". The anti-sublime values the subjective by revealing ambiguity in our perception and drawing focus on "otherness" we normally don't notice or pay attention to. With this, a weakness has been transformed into a legitimate inquiry and aligns it with other historically powerful and transformative artistic movements.

In this reading, Lev Manovich examines a number of new media projects which could loosely be categorized under the umbrella of “data visualizations” and attempts to draw connections between them and the underlying projects of Modernism and Post-Modernism that are usually applied to artworks in more traditional mediums. By examining these works through this lens, Manovich identifies the differences he sees in these works versus “traditional” artworks and poses questions about whether their formal tendencies are driven by the inherent qualities of their medium or whether they are determined by the aesthetic and conceptual choices of new media practitioners.

As Manovich himself says, he is defining visualization broadly:

“I will use the term visualisation for the situations when quantified data which by itself is not visual – the output of meteorological sensors, stock market behaviours, the set of addresses describing the trajectory of a message through a computer network, and so on – is transformed into a visual representation.”

He refers to this type of visualization both in terms of “a particular subset of mapping” and as a new type of “meta-media.” The distinction between his use of these terms in not defined clearly, but instead seems to stem from the set of concerns he’s discussing in different sections of the reading. Mapping relates these works back to questions of dimensionality and framing: who is deciding which dimensions are left out, and who has the power to set the context and frame for information?

His discussion of “meta-media” is more focused on both the structure and artistic tendencies that he relates back to the project of Post-Modernism: the “remixing of previous cultural content and forms.” He sees the development of compositional software across mediums (which he traces back to Xerox PARC in the 1970s) as inherent to the quality of experiments in new media, determining their structure as a “remix between culture and computers.”

As to his point about the “anti-sublime” tendency in new media works, his points are less clearly defined. He makes an argument that data visualization’s key project of reducing large sets of data input to discrete visual “objects” mirrors the Modernism’s project of abstraction, but this thread is hardly thoroughly explored. The relation between the two seems surface-level at best: while a tendency towards reduction is implicit in both, the theoretical rationales and formal tendencies by which this occurs are radically different.

This is perhaps most clearly seen in his discussion of actual works in new media, which tends toward the esoteric. His reflections on these works spends little time on the aesthetic dimensions, and tends toward generalities:

“We are always told that in good art "form and content form a single whole" and that "content motivates form." Maybe in a "good" work of data art the mapping used must somehow relate to the content and context of data - although I am not sure how this would work in general.”

Manovich ends with a call to visualization artists to portray human subjectivity — an admirable project, to be sure, but certainly not the only viable one? Indeed, this call is symptomatic of the range of slippages that Manovich is making when discussing works of visualization. To what extent are these artworks, and when and how should we treat them as such? Certainly, his examples which draw from installations at the 2002 Whitney Biennial or from self-proclaimed artists can be seen within the parameters of art criticism, but what of the number of other projects which fall into some gray area between art and computer or social sciences?

Applying the frameworks of visual criticism is interesting but perhaps misguided in a number of ways, and more limiting than the tendencies that Manovich himself is calling out among new media practitioners.