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Data Visualization as New Abstraction and Anti-Sublime


In order to ground my general observations about data mapping in art in concrete material, I would like now to briefly discuss a few projects by some of the best artists dealing with data visualization. One of my favorites is John Simon (New York). His work is unique for a number of reasons. First of all, he makes explicit connections in his pieces between the new ideas of new media and various traditions, movements and figures of modern art, in particular Mondrian, Klee, and Sol Levitt. Given that art world and culture at large are still largely treating new media as a phenomena in itself which has no connections to the past, Simon’s explicit and systematic explorations of conceptual linkages between new media and modern art is very important. In addition, while new media art field has been rapidly growing in size over the last years, and while artists in all disciplines are now routinely computer as a tool in their work, there are still literally only a few artists out there who focus on one of the most fundamental and radical concepts associated with digital computers – that of computation itself (rather than interactivity, network, or multimedia). Simon systematically researches how real-time computation can be used to create engaging artworks which are both conceptual and strongly material, offering the viewer rich visual experiences. In his earlier work online piece Every Icon (1998) and his wall-mounted pieces included in Bitstreams exhibition at the Whitney Museum (2001) Whitney uses real-time computation to create artworks that have a starting point in time but no end point; as the time progresses, they constantly change. While we can find certain precedents for such artworks in modern art (for instance, kinetic art, early computer art of the 1960s, and conceptual art), Simon pursues a unique strategy of his own: he uses artificial life, cellular automata and other computational techniques to create complex and nuanced images which combine figurative and abstract and which explicitly insert themselves within the history of modernist visual research.

Article  2002