A symposium on the experience of information and materiality of data

Indexical Design


Dietmar Offenhuber

First Panel

Florian Dombois: "Auditory Seismology" (1999) and "Spaces Out of Delay" (2016)

I will speak about my early artistic oeuvre in the field of what I call Auditory Seismology, which uses audification of seismological data as a technique for developing an acoustic idea of the earth as a sound body. A few acoustic examples will be given and I will also reflect the acoustic versus the visual. Afterwards I will show a fresh work "Spaces Out Of Delay (Lithographs)" for the first time in public, to discuss traces of time and material processes and their possible artistic interpretations. I am not sure, if this is "indexical design", but surely the view from the arts can contribute to the discussion.

Inge Hinterwaldner: How to cook visible water molecules? Historical recipes for tracing turbulence

In order to gain initial insights physicists dealing with fluid dynamics had to make visible the events occurring in transparent matter like air and water. For this purpose they tested and used a variety of lightweight markers (also called tracers or indicators): smoke, dye, club-moss spores, wooden splints, etc. It is striking that the materials introduced in the wind and water tunnels were selected according to their luminosity because they had to communicate with the recording devices. Perhaps not surprisingly, a major discourse around hydro- and aerodynamics from around 1900 onwards is concerned with issues such as 'light' and 'contrast'. Besides being photogenic, tracer materials adopt several roles – sometimes at the same time – in this first stage of a multi-step process of gaining a scientific knowledge on turbulence. They all shall show or enhance a natural process without distorting it, even "without physically interfering with the fluid flow" (Merzkirch 1974, 1). This renders the relation between trace and indexicality rather complex

Moritz Stefaner / Susanne Jaschko: Data Cuisine

What is the taste of data? Data Cuisine explores food as a means of communication and information expression. We research ways to represent local open data in local food, through the inherent qualities of food such as color, form, texture, smell, taste, nutrition, origin etc. In our presentation, we will reflect on the unique experiences “data foodification” can provide and its relation to other forms of data presentation.

Tom Schofield: Indices and Eigenzeit: Characteristic time and (net)working

Indices are dependent on temporal situatedness but the time of computer networks is complicated and composed of interacting factors, each expressing its own characteristic arrangement of time. Through a discussion of a series of artworks, situated in network technologies, I will delineate some of these characteristic temporalities, described by Wolfgang Ernst as ‘Eigenzeit’ and discuss their relevance for creative practice. In doing so I will offer a materialist perspective on the sense of indices in ecologies of computational media and people.

Fast Panel

Lourdes Vera

Pedro Cruz

Skye Moret

Second Panel

Jens Hauser: Genuine traces - (de)generating evidence: The importance of splitting hairs

The sign modality known as indexicality as a trans-historical feature to generate evidence has seduced humans from cave imagery, the famous shroud of Turin, early photography as ‘the pencil of nature’ to media and biotechnological art forms today which deconstruct the assumption of alleged mechanical objectivity. But in the cultural and technical history, indices or traces have always been both seducing and intriguing, due to their ambiguous and instable character, thus permanently creating mistrust and doubt whether such mechanical bodily presence preserved in a particular medium is actually authentic or fake. Charles Sanders Peirce’s own designation of the indexical sign’s ‘dual character,’ encompassing both genuine and degenerate signs, paves the way for a closer epistemological analysis of contemporary biomedia art: Tropes picked up by artists such as the ‘genetic fingerprint’ and life’s ‘origin’ equally depart from the fragility of these ‘natural signs’ as the discipline of biosemiotics which sees signs – whether of natural or cultural origin – as constitutive for life itself.

Simon A. Cole - the Fingerprint: From Index to Evidence

The fingerprint is among the paradigmatic examples of what Peirce’s semiotic system refers to as an “index.” Intricate and yet spare, the fingerprint seems to say quite a lot, almost effortlessly. This presentation will explore various ways in which fingerprints are asked to “speak,” which I label the archival, the forensic, and the diagnostic. However much fingerprints, and other forensic traces, are said to “speak for themselves,” elaborate apparatuses and infrastructures turn out to be necessary to allow someone to speak for them in order for traces to become evidence.

Ivan Rupnik: Projecting in Space-time: Frank and Lillian Gilbreths’ ‘Visualization Theory’

Prof. Rupnik will discuss his research on the Gilbreths’ methods and theories of visualization, developed between 1900 and 1925. He will examine their work in relation to their contemporaries, particularly Frederick Taylor and Henry Gantt, as well as to the work of those that they influenced, with particular emphasis on the application of these methods to architectural design practice. He will distinguish the application of these methods and theories as indexing, projection or over-rationalization.

Sara Wylie: Making Pollution Manifest

Two qualities define many late-industrial environmental hazards: their invisibility and the fact that they are often experienced collectively. Communities share exposure to environmental risk but face challenges in making this shared experience visible to scientists and regulators. This talk explores two strategies for making environmental health hazards more visible and collectively tangible by fusing citizen science, open-source hardware and performance art. First, I explore how exposure to the neurotoxic gas hydrogen sulfide can be mapped using photographic paper to create data-rich images of exposure-scapes. Second I discuss experiments in visualizing thermal pollution from power plants in real-time using "thermal fishing bobs" whose color changes depending on temperature. In both of these cases traces of the pollution produce data whose performativity helps build a collective experience of environmental exposures.

Third Panel

Orkan Telhan: Signing matter

The concept of signature is rooted in all forms of communication. It is the mark that establishes identity through difference, significance and value. The graffiti artist, the lion, the serial killer, or the king achieves singularity, popularity, lineage, or power through signature, which can be manifested in writing, symbolism or material trace. Whether it is the humans, animals, or cities, the theories and traditions of studying the signatures have always been in change as the methods of designing and manipulating the materiality of signatures continuously evolve over time. In this talk, I will survey the recent approaches for designing and manipulating living and non-living signatures—from designer gut microbiomes to the urban environment — to reflect on how these signatures will influence our modes of communication.

Jessica Snyder: A Microbial Map of the City

The opportunity to democratically build a human health census motivated a collaboration of urban planning, biomedical and engineering expertise. This work extends existing municipal practices, which successfully measure bacteria, virus and chemicals in wastewater to estimate disease burden and chemical exposure. Our team develops sewage data-mining faculty by measuring the contents of wastewater flow, translating the measurements to human nutrition and habits, then repeating the process neighborhood-by-neighborhood across the metropolitan area. A geotagged database of wastewater-derived bacteria profiles will enable future work differentiating stable communities from those in health crisis.

Catherine D’Ignazio: Feminist DataViz: Bring back the bodies!

In this talk, I will discuss what a feminist approach to data visualization might look like through a little bit of theory and a couple speculative examples from history, art and design. While the dominant paradigm of data visualization is the "view from nowhere", a material and performative approach opens up possibilities for the "view from a specific place, by a situated body, for a particular community". We might think of feminist data visualization as a way to bring the bodies back into data visualization.

Kristian Kloeckl: The urban improvise: Cues and Form in the making

The increasing pervasiveness of embedded and mobile connected digital components in urban environments has transformed what used to be a static, passive backdrop into spaces and objects that have a more fluid behavior. These objects and environments are capable of sensing, computing, and acting in real-time; they can change their behavior in relation to the state of their own system state, their histories of past actions and interactions, the behavior of humans and machines within their reach, and environmental parameters. Environments with these characteristics have the potential to become truly interactive spaces changing their behavior in response to and in anticipation of unforeseen events. Activity is sensed and interpreted. Actions are modulated, behavior adapted in response to the situation, in feedback loops, and in a continuous give and take. It is a behavior that resembles that of an improvisational performance. And improvisation is a good way to frame the possibilities for interaction in and with today's hybrid cities. Improvisation not so much as doing something in a makeshift manner but rather as a process characterized by a simultaneity of both conception and presentation. Iterative and recursive operations that lead to the emergence of dynamic structures. Improvisational performers not only pick up on gestures, sequences played and acted by fellow performers, but they also develop a capability to recognize form when it is in the making. Initial movement is not only read as such but meaning is attributed to the completed form of which the seed is observed. Improvisation is a process that embraces complexity and overcomes binary opposites, in which order and disorder, security and risk, repetition and novelty, information and noise form a mutually constitutive relationship.

Closing remarks

Paul Dourish: indexical design and the materialities of information