Dialogue between Lev Manovich and Jenny Marketou via email, January 25 - February 4, 2002.
Breeder (Athens), no. 5, 2002.
Jenny Marketou: (…) But how can we create the magic of randomness in a visualization from non visual media to visual media as you suggest without losing the magic of the process? How we can express the beauty of the "trajectory" as you once said talking about info aesthetics? Certainly the beauty of data is different from the beauty in the "canon" which we learn at art schools. But again what happens to the content in a meaningless visualization which lends itself in a pure data formalism like this of a "wallpaper"?
Lev Manovich: I can think of at least one example of mapping which has both meaning and beauty. This is Jewish Museum Berlin by Daniel Libeskind. The architect put together a map which showed the addresses of Jews who were living in the neighborhood of the museum site before World War II. He then connected different points on the map together and projected the resulting net onto the surfaces of the building. The intersections of the net projection and the design became multiple irregular windows. Cutting through the walls and the ceilings at different angles, the windows point to many visual references: narrow eyepiece of a tank; windows of a Medieval cathedral; exploded forms of the cubist/abstract/suprematist paintings of the 1910s-1920s. Just as in the case of Janet Cardiff's audio walks, here the virtual becomes a powerful force which re-shapes the physical. In Jewish Museum, the past literally cuts into the present. Rather than something ephemeral, here data space is materialized, becoming a sort of monumental sculpture.
But there was one problem which I kept thinking about when I was visiting the museum building. On the one hand, Libeskind's procedure to find the addresses, make a map and connect all the lines appears very rational, almost the work of scientist. On the other hand, as far as I know, he does not tell us anything about why he projected the net in a particular way as opposed to any other way. So I find something contradictory in fact that all painstakingly collected and organized data then just "thrown" over the shapes of the building in a arbitrary way. And this is the basic problem of the whole mapping paradigm. Usually there are endless ways to map one data set onto another, and the particular mapping chosen by then artist typically is not motivated. As a result the work feels arbitrary. We are always told that in good art "form and content form a single whole", "content motivates form," and so on. Maybe in a "good" work of data art the mapping used have to somehow relate to the content and context of data - although I am not sure how this would work in general.