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.
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?
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.