Playful Visualizations at Work, Working Visualizations at Play

Archive for the ‘Meaghan’ Category




See? I really WAS doing an art project. Here are three (iphone camera) images of the semi finished product of my Pale King resin adventure. As I’ve said in other posts, I was inspired by thinking about processes of reading, especially at the high academic level where there are certain things that one consciously and unconsciously takes into the reading process (different things from everyone else?). I was also inspired by my struggles and productive mishaps with computer software like Pixelmator and GIMP. This is a good link to other versions of Open Source Photoshop-like programs. I generally hesitate to photograph epoxy art, because of the glare and the impossibility of capturing the depth that makes these pieces so interesting in my opinion. This particular work is about ten layers of epoxy, text, and acrylic paint on a wooden panel. Epoxy is a fascinating material, caustic and scientific (well, you wear gloves and have to measure accurately, it FEELS scientific) and fantastic for creating two dimensional art with a lot of thickness and profundity. I should probably mention that it is very expensive (this four foot squared painting used about $150 worth), and also that I happen to get it for free from a wonderful patron who is part of my family. System Three, the epoxy/resin company, also provides epoxy to a very talented artist in Seattle named Alan Fulle.

This project is finished for now, which means it will go on a wall and I will look at it until I get more epoxy and decide to take it down from the wall and keep working on it. This interim period sometimes takes a couple of years, depending on my academic workload. It has been very interesting for me to do a project for school that took so many forms, a true protean adventure that stretched my brain and reinvigorated my attachment and engagement to the book that started it all. Let me know what you think, and if you we know one another (or someone I know knows you) , you can always email me to come see any of my work in person.


Cleaning House

I was procrastinating today, which in this case meant cleaning up and organizing my computer. I thought it might be fun to post some of the many many images created in the course of the quarter. In thumbnail form, it almost looks like a quilt as well! Many of the forms created here have informed my epoxy project, as well.

How this year changed me

Although it’s been less than two weeks since the academic quarter ended, I find myself missing all things school related. That said, I am writing this post from my office on campus, so it’s not like I’ve left. Everyone else has though, that’s for sure. Campus becomes a bit of a ghost town in the summer, and this week is even more quiet because summer classes have yet to start. I most miss the pressure of the quarter system, which allowed/compelled me to write ten blog posts on LuAn within a very short period of time. I guess I just miss the pressure in general. I am currently in an awkward and new position of having nothing but my dissertation to work on for half of a year. I know that I’ve written here before about how tangential our digital endeavors are to my dissertation project, but over the last week I’ve gravitated more and more toward my computer, and not just Word, as I play around with my enormous project. For one, I have decided to create a website/wiki for the project, that will most likely only be open to a small number of colleagues and my committee until the dissertation is finished. I’ve been thinking a lot about sharing information and ideas freely, and I really do want to make as many parts of my work available online as possible. What that will do to/for me once I go on the job market is unclear, but as a young scholar I am still idealistic enough to imagine my thoughts might help someone else and no one will appropriate them in any sort of damaging way. We shall see. Stephen Ramsay’s blog is an excellent example of a site which shares a lot of phenomenal academic work free of charge. I really can’t say enough about how his blog and book have changed my way of thinking this year.

I have also been using presentation and modeling software to try to make sense of some organizational issues I’m having. To summarize in an unsatisfactory way, my dissertation looks at corporate spaces and individual resistances within, through readings of a handful of contemporary novels that engage with theories of power and management. There are some films thrown into the bag, and I am also looking at new media. Organizing the general chapters has been a bear. I initially wanted to write four chapters, each focusing on a main book. I was then encouraged to try to organize according to types of corporate spaces I have found in my research (spaces of boredom, networked spaces, etc), and finally we have come somewhat full circle back to the book by book organization. One of my committee members suggested I think of each chapter as a constellation, an idea I’ve always found very elegant since my readings of Benjamin. Yet, since I’m not writing The Arcades Project, I am struggling with how a constellation becomes a dissertation chapter. Enter Prezi. I am doing some mapping that may in part be a way of putting off the inevitable–writing–but seems to be helping me make sense visually of my thoughts. I thought about posting some of them, but for now I will reserve them for my private site, and will continue to tinker and refine in the hopes that at some point I will be able to share them with you all.

My resin/Pale King manual art project is also coming along, and I thought I might share a picture of one of the first layers of work. What you can see is my plastic drop cloth (epoxy does not attach to plastic, thankfully), the interesting looking discs are actually just plates to prop up the frame because I do not live in a level house, and the first layer of painting/text (acrylic paint, and the text is glued down to the wood with elmer’s). I will perhaps post other pictures showing the progression, I have been considering making an animation of the process as well. Image

Interdisciplinarity and Collaboration

Yesterday was the final meeting of the seminar which encouraged us to create this blog. During the three hours of our meeting, each of the four groups presented their respective projects and we had small amounts of time to ask questions and comment on their work. I was sincerely blown away by a) the amount of work everyone (this group included) had done, and b) the fascinating range of interests and directions the projects demonstrated. It seems necessary to say a few more words about this seminar, especially for those of you who are either not part of the seminar (hopefully more of you will be in this boat as our readership widens) or who have not clicked on the links to Alan’s beautiful home site for the seminar. Unbeknownst to me (before March of 2012), the digital humanities community on UCSB’s campus is a thriving and productive group of fascinating professors and students. Our professor, Alan, is definitely in the foreground of this group, and his carefully designed seminar engages with a good deal of important DH theory, and centers on a collaborative student project that uses digital tools to engage with some type of text, be it a novel, poem, video game, television show, or film. Our project is mostly available on this blog site, but the seminar site which is linked to above also provides a bit more information about us, our reading lists, and our academic interests. This seminar has allowed me to grow and mutate in directions I had never envisioned as a scholar. Deformance, textual analysis, and visualizations were foreign to me (okay, I was actually familiar with McGann and Samuels, but everything else is true) as scholarly and pedagogical tools. I emerge from this seminar with a reawakened energy for scholarship and a long list of blogs and books to read, people to watch, and projects to undertake. I am deeply indebted to Alan for creating this incredible course, and to my fellow graduate students for their fascinating projects and their enthusiasm in general. I would sincerely encourage you all to examine the course page, especially the project pages from the other groups. Amanda, Tom, Mary Jane, Hannah, and Alston have done incredible work that demonstrates the flexibility of the course and the extremely exciting diversity of minds within the various departments represented in our seminar. I am thrilled to have met them and learned about their work.

This is writing itself like a farewell, but in fact I have two other posts in the works that return to essays I read earlier this year, and other posts will follow as my brain spins. Keep reading, because all three of us want to keep sharing our thoughts! And pictures. Below is a link to my final reflections on our course and project, it’s a longer read (eight pages, not too bad) but might be interesting for those of you who are curious about the parameters of the seminar.


Reflection Paper

The Blurry King

I wanted to post my latest image without any kind of narrative, but it’s nearly impossible for me to share something without one or two sentences. So, the text within the image is taken from a number of reviews of The Pale King, found in Times Magazine, The New Yorker, and STL Magazine. There are also excerpts from user reviews from Amazon, and short excerpts from chapter 14 of the novel. Don’t try to read them. Or, read them if you want to. I don’t want to tell you what to do with it.

Artist Analyst

As we get closer to the end of the academic quarter, and thus the end of the grade-motivated production of our dialogue in our wonderfully exciting, structured seminar, I am reading more and more and feeling more and more excited by the anticipated art of this coming summer and how -fun- and -exhilarating- it will be to work through some of my photoshop/pixelmator frustrations and limitations using my hands and paint and epoxy and physical texts. I’m not anti-technology, and this seminar has certainly encouraged me to learn more and do more with my computer, but I can’t wait to be outside with just my hands and some supplies. I am going to spend one more week playing with pixelmator, but am certainly going to spend the next days, months, and years thinking about a number of ideas generated by our blog. One thought in particular that I want to note today was sparked by Liz’s most recent post in which she wrote:

This brings me back to something I had discussed earlier, which is that our data always seems to be more useful for ourselves than for our readers. This may explain why the scholarly article and book have had such a long life; they don’t simply convey understanding, they enact it as well. Close reading recreates, in the article, the process through which we imbue texts with meaning. The act of applying historical research to a volume of literature mimics the act of research and the flash of understanding that comes when one grasps how a specific historical fact is relevant to the text at hand. Articles are processes, they are a temporal movement towards the end of an argument. Visualizations, however, lack that sense of journey. They are always, already, at the end even when you, the reader, are still at the beginning.

Wow. One issue I’ve always had with writing is I can never quote quite enough of the brilliance I see in other people’s work. Luckily, no one is grading my blog (at least, I hope that my writing skills are not under serious scrutiny here as I rarely read over what I publish), so I get to copy Liz’s paragraph in all its glory. The value of a process versus the product has been a concern of mine for the past few months. I have hopped and skipped and (mostly) stumbled through a wide variety of text analysis tools, all kinds of word generators and algorithms that changed my text input into hilarious explosions of letters. As you have seen in my posts, I also spent quite a bit of time in Microsoft Office.  However, there is no single product of this play that to me says that, here, I’ve found something breathtakingly new and spectacularly beautiful/useful for my greater purposes of understanding David Foster Wallace’s last work. That said, I now have an intimacy with chapter 14 of The Pale King that I have with few other texts on the planet. When I think of other works I know as well, I can only come up with a handful: Julio Cortázar’s “El otro cielo,” Sophocles’ Antigone, Harry Potter books 5-7, and André Gide’s L’Immoraliste. What’s interesting about this list, in terms of what Liz wrote above, is that my closeness to this list of highly varied texts is derived from an equally varied list of practices of reading. Harry Potter I’ve read four to five times. That type of intimacy is easily understood, right? I teach Antigone every year to undergraduates. I wrote one of my senior theses in college on Cortázar’s “cielo.” I painted sections of L’Immoraliste in a similar way to the pictures of a painting I posted recently in the entry entitled “l’art pour l’art.” Liz’s statement, that the visualization lacks a sense of journey, really intrigues me. I think she is right, at least about a lot of types of visualizations. Temporally, writing an essay on Wallace demands more time than copying part of his novel into Many Eyes and seeing what types of visuals can be created from it. Additionally, the process, or the parts of the process we do not edit out of the final product, are more transparent. What I want to know, or to think about, is what the difference might be between the journey depicted in an article or conference presentation, and what one can see in a piece of art. As with a visualization like a graph or word cloud, it is difficult to see a process when looking at one of my paintings. I can see the process, of course, as the artist, but it is not immediately visible to an audience. Our relationship to our own work is, necessarily, so different from what anyone else might be able to take away from it. I like that with an essay, it is easier to trace or unpack the levels of research that have gone into constructing an argument. But, I also like that my art can stand alone, and that there are an infinite number of ways for an audience to evaluate, think about, or create from what I’ve done.

Mesostic Madness

Another interesting thing that came of my conversation with Harry Reese was my introduction to the mesostic poem. Reese’s work is influenced by composer John Cage’s invention of the mesostic poem, which is derived from a (series of) word(s) that constitute the spine of the poem, around which a poem is formed. Essentially these poems are like acrostics, except each line does not necessarily begin with the letter that is part of the spine. Someone with more coding experience than I has created an algorithm that generates mesostics: the mesostomatic! Below is my generated text, which I created by typing in The Pale King, leaving the site setting at CNN (which will make sense if you go to the site), stripping punctuation marks, and asking the program to write five iterations of the poem. It came out a little funky, and I left it as is for the purpose of posting here. Go make your own!

 wea Ther
 pag E” cnnsectionname=”cnn
 nbs Pus
 intern Ational
 h Ln
 hom E
 smac Kdown
 lat Ino
 presiden Tial
 c Hild
 brid E
 nbs P
 r Avi
 peop Le
 l Ist
 brid Ge
 mi T
 cofound Er
 mashu P
 f Aa
 emp Loyees
 s I
 blo G
 wa Tson
 appalac Hia
 r Enowned
 flat Picking
 fingersty Le
 t Echnique
 w Ill
 a Nthony
 cor Gi
 wa Tch
 m Ay
 possib Le
Et ac360
 l Ine your
 mo Ney state
Gps reliable