Archive for the 'Data viz' Category

Line, pattern, index

line, pattern, index; palimpsest and piecing

That was the title of the mini research project I drew up for March.

There were some beginnings:

All above but the writing square are samples based on two classes with Lynn Yuhr (https://www.instagram.com/lynnyuhr/), presented online by Metalwerx. Lynne’s teaching and notes were exceptional. Metalwerx provided excellent support and admin.

Sally Smart
The Artists House
AGNSW

Work by Sally Smart at the Art Gallery of NSW thrilled.

The “index” element came from reading Index, A History of the by Dennis Duncan. I was interested in the idea of indexing as an act of deep reading. Struggling to read a dense chapter in Jane Hirshfield’s Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry as preparation for the creative research group, I decided to try indexing. Just developing a set of headwords was challenging and very effective in both engaging a higher level of attentiveness and in identifying the flow of Hirshfield’s argument.

Next I attempted to combine a few of my focus elements in building an index – or a series of indexes – of the Daily Balance photographs I showed last month.

It became elaborate. An example:

Daily balance #5
Combined with an old charcoal scribble, which was then rubbed back and covered with white paint
became a new charcoal sketch.
I then identified what most attracted my attention and…
a pattern was formed

The next step was going to be the pattern expressed in polymer clay, which in a way I can’t now see was going to become one of a set of pattern index cards. There’s a gap in my thinking here. That’s an index?

At the same time I wrote a paragraph triggered by the various elements – the story behind the glass frog which was a gift from mum.

Plus a list of materials which could feed into an index. Which could be based on edited photos of mum. The closest I could find to polymer clay was a photo of mum holding some children’s play clay. The photo has the sharp image of clay, and the pixelated memory shape of mum.

This was A Very Bad Idea. I was obliterating my mother. I’ve removed the photo from this post because I don’t want to see that again. The entire chain of work was abandoned, although I may return to the pattern generation element.

Instead I have diverted to consider a coincidence in the use of language. Dennis Duncan writes of the “compressed story telling” that can appear in an index. Major incidents in Jane Doe’s life in staccato bursts and page numbers. Jane Hirshfield writes that good poetry, and image in particular “by gathering many energies toward a single end, creates an intense compression of meaning; it carries into the mind the solidity, particularity, and multi-facetedness of actual objects.” And leads on to enlarged awareness.

Different forms of compression can distil down, or open out. Which led on to mapping and models, and how patterns can be found by drilling down into the detail of sunflower pollen or by looking up, stargazing the constellations. In Evocative Objects Mitchel Resnick writes of his attention being held not by the stars, but the spaces between. He went on to explore “systems in which complex patterns emerge from simple interactions among simple parts.

Pattern finding – the simple describing the complex? complex pattern from combinations of the simple?

And then there’s the surprise of the unexpected, a disruption in the pattern. (Explored by Jane Hirshfield in Hiddenness, Uncertainty, Surprise.)

More investigation required.

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…


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