Archive for June, 2020

Non-linear time

Humanist data viz; non linear time… what does that even mean? what could that mean in practice?

My first attempts have been mapping shifts in time in fiction.

The first was inspired and guided by Like Talking With a Friend: Intimacy in Lucia Berlin’s Peripatetic Narratives (https://lithub.com/like-talking-with-a-friend-intimacy-in-lucia-berlins-peripatetic-narratives/), an analysis by Alexandra Chang of a short story written by Lucia Berlin. As it happened I had read the story, Stars and Saints.

Chang makes lots of interesting points on the strategies used by Berlin in the story and what they allow her to achieve. I’ve focused on one element – seeing how Berlin plays with time and speed.

Berlin’s story starts bottom right, “today” (story chronology on x-axis), on line 1 (y-axis shows the line of text in the narration). The story finishes top right, back on “today” on line around 269.

In between Berlin zooms back and forward in time – her earliest childhood (in green on the chart), a number of incidents in adulthood (the purple column), but mostly in a period of her childhood covering the main events of the story.

Sometimes the story’s time zips around. Things happened. The adult Berlin reflects on them, and on similar or contrasting experiences in her life. At other times the narration moves smoothly forward, taking the reader through events in the order they occured.

Producing the graph certainly helped me to read the story with great attention, taking in more of the shades of meaning and correspondences Berlin is presenting, as well as some of her method. Once I developed the base visualisation I was able to use it to track and explore a number of ideas and themes. Just one version is shown here.


Earlier this week I finished reading Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. This book has a number of narrators and interlocking story lines. By the end I felt I almost had a handle on what had happened. I made a table and then sketched it out.

time movement in Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

There are three main threads of time through the book.

  • A series of historical events from 1791 to 1969. The story moves back and forward through this period as the novel progresses. This is shown on the y-axis
  • A series of letters, interleaved through the historical sections, mainly presented in chronological order. The exception is the final letter presented which is a slight step back in time line. This is shown on the x-axis.
  • A journey of a few days that was undertaken just after the first letter but completed before the second. This is not included in the diagram, but the timing is indicated in the note at the top.

Developing this certainly helped me to better understanding of the structure of the novel. It would probably help me to understand more about the content and the themes presented, if I were to re-read with this beside me – but that’s not something I want to undertake at the moment.


I think this idea could be used as a more active, integrated, part of reading. A lot of authors play with time, and I quite often get confused.

I’m also interested in taking the graphs themselves and doing a further transformation – for example treating them as a pattern or a literal thread in a textile piece. A couple of ideas are bubbling…

Tricia Flanagan – Digital Materiality

Conductive embroidery was a one day workshop given by Tricia Flanagan at Gallery Lane Cove during the time of her exhibition Digital Materiality –Coded Textiles. There was a presentation of theory and materials, a couple of simple practical exercises, and discussion of possible applications. We also spent time in Tricia’s exhibition.

Tricia had prepared thermochromatic threads and textile paints by combining specialty pigments with standard textile binding medium and screen printing medium. “Thermo” (heat) + “chroma” (colour). At standard room temperature the powders are red, blue, yellow… Heated, the colour vanishes. So white thread or fabric painted with red pigment + binding medium looks red when cool (the outside colour on the thread) and white when heated (the red vanishes, so the underlying white of the thread or fabric is visible).

Heat was created by making a circuit using a battery and high resistance conductive thread. The thread warms up as the current passes through it.

Top: Simple running stitch in conductive thread, on a rainbow of thermochromatic paint
Bottom: circuit made with battery. Heated thread warms fabric and colour changes

Top: thread painted with thermochromatic paint, couched with a mix of conductive thread and ordinary coloured sewing thread
Bottom: Circuit made with battery. Some colour vanishes, based on proximity to conductive thread.

A simple, static circuit – not exactly exciting. A variation was a sample that had multiple part-circuits. Connections were made by a dangling tassel (metal washer covered by buttonhole stitch in conductive thread) that would brige gaps depending on where it fell on the fabric – effectively a tilt-sensor.

From the studio we went up to Tricia’s exhibition space, to see some of the many what-ifs that this little taster could lead to. One in particular blew me away.

BODYecology 2016 – present (ongoing) handspun merino lambswool, indigo, acrylic, steel, wood, electronics, weaving loom and video

There are basically three parts: a sleeping mat; a winding and dyeing apparatus; a loom.

On the left in the photo above, the sleeping mat. A sensor in the pillow recognises when Tricia is lying there, and the central mechanism is switched on.

At the back left in the centre is a pile of undyed yarn cakes. The other end of the yarn is tied on to a bobbin mounted on a bar at the front. When the mechanism is switched on the bar turns, winding on newly-dyed yarn at a steady rate.

The path the yarn takes is exciting. That metal canister at the back right is an indigo dye vat. The travelling yarn is plunged into that to varying depths. The dyed yarn goes past a blow heater, then is taken on a zig-zag path so it is dry by the time it reaches the bobbin.

How deep the yarn goes into the dye vat varies the time the yarn is exposed to the dye, and so the depth of colour. So what controls the depth of the plunge?

Sleeping Tricia wears a fitness monitor. Data collected on her sleep is sent to a controller on the central mechanism. Deeper sleep –> deeper plunge –> deeper colour. Longer in deep sleep –> longer length of yarn deep dyed.

The next day Tricia can wind off the yarn dyed through the night, and use it as weft on the warp. Apparently it takes around a month to complete the woven piece.

Another view, showing a completed weaving at the back and on video.

Some of my details are probably a bit off, but the basic idea… Sleep patterns coded and made visible in a textile. Beautiful!

See a little of the action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NL-gsrJUjL4

I was hoping to visit the exhibition again later, for a closer look plus more conversation with Tricia. Of course as things turned out that couldn’t happen.

Some links:


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