Emerging Ideas

Stephen Bennett: Data visualisation and maps

Stephen Bennett’s work explores whether art can bridge the gap between science and public decision-making. Data visualisation and maps are points of departure.

He is currently studying for an MA in Arts and Science at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts, London

Ice caps are melting and species are being wiped out. There is abundant evidence and data on this yet appropriate political decisions are not taken. Stephen Bennett’s work explores whether art can bridge the gap between science and public decision-making. Data visualisation and maps are points of departure. Tufte (2006) describes the importance of escaping ‘flatland’, given that “all the interesting worlds (physical, biological, imaginary, human)… are… multivariate in nature”. Regan et al (2015) describe how processing, analysing and presenting data is “increasingly removed from the everyday experience”. Stephen’s work takes information from electronic and relatively inaccessible data repositories and presents it in analogue, tangible and interactive formats. Bourriard (2002) argues that artworks can build micro-communities, and relational aesthetics can be employed to embroil the viewer in an issue. The artist’s hypothesis is that participatory and interactive art can increase agency and engagement in evidence. This article sets out how Stephen has attempted this in his practice.

 

Data stained glass showing projected impact of climate change on Middle East

Stained Glass Climate Data Projection, Middle East is an interactive work which has a focal point of a large square of handmade stained glass portraying climate change data sourced from the website http://www.climatewizard.org. The data shows change in precipitation by 2080 in a region of the Middle East including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Israel and Syria.Darker red squares represent a more significant reduction in rainfall, whilst yellow represents little or no change. Light is projected through the stained glass onto the floor. A chalk-drawn map exactly corresponds to the locations which are signified by the climate data. The deep red light filtering onto the Palestine-Jordan border indicates this will see the most drying in the entire region. Viewers activate the map by blocking out the competing light from a nearby source. The audience walk over the map, explore the interaction between the chalk drawing and the projected light, and take selfies through the glass. At different paces, and through different routes, viewers discover how climate change projections map onto an already vulnerable and tumultuous political geography.

Data stained glass showing projected impact of climate change on Middle East (stained glass, chalk, light). Data originally sourced from http://www.climatewizard.org Data stained glass showing projected impact of climate change on Middle East (stained glass, chalk, light). Data originally sourced from http://www.climatewizard.org

Data stained glass showing projected impact of climate change on Middle East (stained glass, chalk, light). Data originally sourced from http://www.climatewizard.org

Data stained glass showing projected impact of climate change on Middle East (stained glass, chalk, light). Data originally sourced from http://www.climatewizard.org

 

Transparent data maps, Bristol Channel

Transparent Data Maps, Bristol Channel comprise glass maps which allow a visual comparison between different spatial data relating to the Bristol Channel region. Data is sourced from various repositories such as the UK Office for National Statistics and UCL’s Datashine website, and then painted onto glass panes with transparent glass paint. Each pane of glass contains the information relating to one variable – for example population change between 2001-2011, change in precipitation caused by climate change, proportion voting ‘Leave’ in the EU Referendum, average age and incidence of deprivation. Viewers are encouraged to overlay the data panes on top of each other, to explore the evidence and interaction between variables in a visual and tactile way.

Transparent data maps, Bristol Channel (glass paint on glass, wooden stand)

Transparent data maps, Bristol Channel (glass paint on glass, wooden stand)

Glass map showing Census population change data in the Bristol Channel region between 2001-2011 (deeper red = higher population growth). Data originally sourced from the Office of National Statistics 2011 Census analysis

 Glass map showing Census population change data in the Bristol Channel region between 2001-2011 (deeper red = higher population growth). Data originally sourced from the Office of National Statistics 2011 Census analysis 

Glass map showing proportion voting ‘Leave’ in 2016 UK referendum, overlaid by glass map showing population change (darker purple = greater proportion voting Leave; darker red = higher population growth). Data originally sourced from BBC News

Glass map showing proportion voting ‘Leave’ in 2016 UK referendum, overlaid by glass map showing population change (darker purple = greater proportion voting Leave; darker red = higher population growth). Data originally sourced from BBC News

Glass map showing households by deprivation dimensions overlaid by glass map showing population change (lighter/yellower turquoise = higher incidence of deprivation; darker red = higher population growth). Data originally sourced from http://datashine.org.uk

Glass map showing households by deprivation dimensions overlaid by glass map showing population change (lighter/yellower turquoise = higher incidence of deprivation; darker red = higher population growth). Data originally sourced from http://datashine.org.uk 

 

Participatory data visualisation of climate impacts in Indus Valley, built at Tate Exchange

Participatory data visualisation of climate impacts in Indus Valley shows precipitation change in the Indo-Pakistan border region. This map was painted and built by gallery visitors at the Tate Modern’s Tate Exchange in a single afternoon. Visitors sit down at tables and chairs with an assortment of paints, brushes and paper. A leaflet explains the exercise: paint a 15cm2 paper in a certain colour. The colour exactly matches a map of the Indus Valley (India/Pakistan border), again sourced from www.climatewizard.org. Each 15cm2 paper is a pixel of data showing change in precipitation in 2080. Audience members are encouraged to discuss what this might mean for the region, as well as take sheer pleasure in the process of painting. The work was part of a collective exhibition with Central Saint Martins.

Participatory data visualisation of climate impacts in Indus Valley. Data originally sourced from http://www.climatewizard.org

Participatory data visualisation of climate impacts in Indus Valley. Data originally sourced from http://www.climatewizard.org

Participatory data visualisation of climate impacts in Indus Valley. Data originally sourced from http://www.climatewizard.org

Participatory data visualisation of climate impacts in Indus Valley. Data originally sourced from http://www.climatewizard.org

 

Painted data maps of southern Africa

This series of four painted maps explores whether providing data in a hand-painted and aesthetic manner increases engagement with the information. Each painting comprises statistics and data drawn from a range of online and academic sources. The paintings show socio-economic and environmental data, for example the 11 official languages of South Africa and the interaction between rainfall anomaly and retail maize grain prices. In some cases, the choice of medium better facilitates portrayal of the data; for example the thin transparent paint washes allow us to see how different linguistic groupings interact and overlay in South Africa. The work benefitted from advice and inspiration from Professor Richard Black at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

The 11 official languages of South Africa (above left) and the interaction between rainfall anomaly and retail maize grain prices in southern Africa (above right). Data originally sourced from Wikipedia and FEWS NET.

The 11 official languages of South Africa (above left) and the interaction between rainfall anomaly and retail maize grain prices in southern Africa (above right). Data originally sourced from Wikipedia and FEWS NET.

Image 10 Painted data southern Africa

Current drought risk for southern Africa juxtaposed with political boundaries (above left) and projections of reduced rainfall under climate scenarios (above right). Data originally sourced from World Resources Institute and www.climatewizard.org

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Bibliography

Bourriaud, N. (2002) Relational Aesthetics. Translated by Pleasance, S. and Woods, F. Dijon: Les Presses du Réel.

Tufte, E. (2006) Envisioning Information. 11th edition. Connecticut: Graphics Press LLC.

Regan, T. et al (2015) ‘Designing Engaging Data in Communities’, CHI 2015.  Crossings, Seoul, Korea. 18-23 April. Seoul: CHI’15 Extended Abstracts, pp. 271-274. Available at: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/designing-engaging-data.pdf (Accessed: 9 April 2017)

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www.srgbennett.com

@srgbennett

 

 

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