Month: February 2014

02/28: The Innocent Infographic

“Information does not exist in a natural state, available to the light of reason in the form of knowledge ordered to display itself in a self-evident way. Not at all.- if that would be the case, designers would only have to follow the natural way of presenting information. …the distance between us and Edward Tufte: Tufte also goes on to say that, “Graphics reveal data.” The conviction that information exists outside of- or in advance of- the presentation of data in graphical form is problematic, even inaccurate, from both a theoretical and a practical point of view.”     -Johanna Drucker, Graphesis: Visual knowledge production and representation, 2007

This quote was offered during a lecture entitled “Visual Epistomology // Visual Epistemology  //  [relational systems]” given by Dr. Gaia Scagnetti. She described four types of systems as followed: simple (the domain of best practice or systems with one optimum setting); complicated (domain of the expert or requiring practice for understanding); complex (domain of emergence or without predetermined outcome); chaotic (domain of rapid response or tactical rather than strategic intervention). She focused her talk on the dramatic rise of infographics as journalistic tool and means of dealing with both a huge increase in information availability and the ease with which information is able to be stored. Her main point was, similar to the way a map comes with embedded biases which often go unnoticed, these infographics frame arguments in very specific and deliberate ways. To claim that they are ‘neutral’ is ,as Johanna Drucker mentioned, both inaccurate and problematic.

complex systems diagram

Above are slides depicting qualities of complex systems and diagrams. Also mentioned were examples in popular culture, firstly daytum.com then feltron.com.

daytum feltron report

One project mentioned in a previous week was Laura Kurgan’s Million Dollar Blocks which mapped out state funding for prisoners based on address, which aggregates to show how much money government spends on locking up its citizens. Implicit in this description is the notion that the government is not spending much on other government services to possibly preempt criminal activity or generally improve the welfare and investment citizens have in their neighborhoods.

million dollar blocks bangladesh economy

For studio this semester I am creating infographics to describe the macro economy of Banlgadesh and the process of recycling electronic waste in Dhaka. Above is a diagram explaining the relationship between labor and capital in the broad sectors of the Bangladesh economy. Notice the concentration of wealth in industries like mining and energy as compared to agriculture. Nothing particularly novel but there were choices involved in how to illustrate information which adds an editorial authorship to the image.

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02/26 The Lineup Transcripts

Today I shuffled around getting various people (doctor, radiologist technician) to look at my multicolored ankle, and while shuffling down a hospital hallway I came across a signed print from 1968 (the Roman Numerals are bottom right):

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The artist is Tom Phillips, and I will need to do a little bit of research on him before elaborating on him or his body of work. What it reminded me of, tangentially, was the Manhattan Transcripts (1976-1981) by Bernard Tschumi. The Transcripts, depicting narratives through parts of midtown and Central Park, “proposed to transcribe an architectural interpretation of reality.  ….plans, sections, and diagrams outline spaces and indicate the movements of the different protagonists intruding into the architectural ‘stage set’.”

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Around the time I was first introduced to the Manhattan Transcripts I also saw 1958’s The Lineup with a pre-“The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” Eli Wallach (he was the ugly to Clint Eastwood’s good) as a gangster hitman tracking down a lost package of smuggled heroin. Some of the cinematography greatly impressed me, especially the way background elements were framed by the fore- and mid-ground:

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I wanted to use the film as source material for The Lineup Transcripts, which would break down an existing narrative and perspective. Frames of the film would be diagrammed to better illustrate the physical spaces depicted:

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For now the project is more an exercise in mimicry and homage rather than a critical response to Tschumi’s work. Part of the problem is that the work clarifies but does not generate other possible realities. It sticks pretty close to the source material. But I would recommend The Lineup as film worth watching, if only to get a good glimpse of late 1950s San Francisco.

02/25: Work Samples

Work samples serve as previews for the feature length portfolio, showing abbreviated looks at a few favorite projects. They are widely accepted and requested to be included in any submission of resume and cover letter. I made five, with three of them being selected to send to each firm to which I will be applying shortly.

Work Sample 1 Work Sample 3 Work Sample 2Work Sample 4Work Sample 5 

02/24: Desk Stand

I injured my ankle last week and have spent the interim sitting at desks with one leg propped up in a full recline, and it has made it difficult to get much work done. I probably can’t blame procrastination on my posture, but I’d like to and will continue to do so for the near future. My injury has got me thinking about a project I wanted to get done weeks ago. I wanted to build an adjustable stand which would let me use my laptop while seated or raise it to allow me to stand while working. Many articles have been written about the benefits of standing while working, or rather the potential dangers of sitting for a third of the day. My old solution was a box:

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I found a promise for a $20, 20 minute DIY solution on one website, but it was an ikea table with some brackets. Wired magazine had a review of a $349 option too.  I’d like to make one for about $30 and hopefully less than 4 hours. The plan is for some 1/4″ plywood to be attached with examples of the adjustable strut designed last year for the deployable space frame. A lock on one of the struts should make the whole platform rigid, but I’m not sure how to detail the fasteners and connections to resist rotational forces.

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02/23: Tying up the reins

In a city as old as Philadelphia there are various clues to be found which illustrate moments or aspects of the cities history. Mostly I notice the decorative metal sheets found near steps and entrances to houses which offer guests the chance to scrape the horseshit off of their boots before entering a home or shop. There are also many examples of places to tie up horses, the parking spots of their day. Often they line the curb of the sidewalk to allow owners to tie up the reins of the horses while letting the animals stand in the street. Yesterday I came across some which were embedded into the brick facade of a building, meaning at one point a century ago the front of the building would often be seen with a row of horses decorating the base of the building. These days the ties (what is the proper term?) serve as bicycle parking. Would this qualify as adaptive reuse? Is this simply reuse?

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02/22: Racheal Whiteread

I have an ongoing interest in trying to “cast” the streets and alleyways of old cities, such as the Casbah of Algiers or the medinas of Ghardaia. Back in 1993 Rachel Whiteread cast the inside of a house in concrete, deconstructing the house around it and letting the concrete stand exposed. (The back story and impact of the piece can be read here. The two images below are also from Apollo Magazine:)

image_large whiteread house WHITEREAD-1993-House-View-2_photo-by-Sue-Omerodfull

This video combines two interviews with Rachel, one during the piece’s creation and one years after. The sculpture has the quality of being a memorial to the house which once stood on the site. I would argue it does a better job of describing the house which served as the form work than the actual house did. Below are photographs of “Untitled” (1999), representing library stacks on the left, and Ghost (1993) on the right. This technique offers an interesting perspective on the world in which we all inhabit, in the empty space between objects.

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All of these projects represent places contained by buildings or rooms. This technique could be transfered outside to mark and register the exterior facades of buildings, the surfaces of sidewalks, the physical boundaries of the street. I had previously mentioned a sketching class (Chefchaouen, or the Blue City) where I started to explore what a solid representation of urban voids would look like, all of which was directly inspired by Rachel Whiteread’s work.

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If these models could replicate the intimate detail achieved by House or Ghost, a bay window or projecting column or a recessed window, it could offer a very rich glimpse of a place. But how would such a cast address the sky? Would the cast end at the top of a facade? Would it express the surface of the roof?