sub_scape artistic rationale and influences

Traditionally, western cartography combines multiple data sets in a 2 dimensional representation. The datamapping (combinative, cross-referencing of datasets) tells a story – the landuse and landforms of a place; demographics and epidemiology; ethnography and employment, etc. Imaginative and politicised choice of datasets creates more esoteric ‘maps’, eg civil society; 3d visualisations of bombsites and archaeological sites in the virtual heritage industry.


Aesthetically and globally, datamapping/cartography have embraced two, three and four dimensional forms of representation, from mud maps to Magnetic Image Resonance body mapping and sonar seabed visualisation. There have been infinite combinations of the pictorial and symbolic, from Micronesian shell maps to Chinese pictorial maps. The use of live data input/dynamic maps, from collaborative sand painting in Aboriginal Australia to web based data visualisation softwares.
Today, the proliferation of data in digital storage/retrieval systems demand that artist engage with the aesthetics, forms and politics of datamapping. sub_scape is a real-time generative system for manipulating data streams. The system samples, manipulates, folds and re maps one data set onto another.


Digital data is extraordinary stuff. It is ‘non-material’, being abstract and ethereal. As Dr Anne Finnegan has so nimbly argued: like Derrida’s take on writing, data is less an imprint than the principle of ‘being imprinted’ . Yet we can treat data as matter, precisely because its “capacity for ‘being-imprinted’ is a variable…it can as easily accommodate the crunching of large numbers...or can be mapped and configured across 2, 3 or 4 dimensions, at various levels of data saturation” .
So this ‘non matter’ can be manipulated, sampled, folded, compressed, expanded; its flow can be animated, made to swarm, flock, stagger, be still, disperse and remass. Freed from the constraints of the analogue (the archive, the ledger), digital data can cut loose and be released into its capacity for imprintedness – it can be mapped onto anything with the potential for being inscripted or imprinted. For instance: the body, cyberspace, a video stream, other dataflows or datasets.

Data has a certain independence, a life of its own – it holds only a tangential, non-mimetic relationship to the subject that was tallied or quantified during data collection. Data is the product of abstract thought (what information will illustrate the data collector’s thesis?) – it reflects its own behaviours not those of its ‘content’. The data mass can behave as one but will also be comprised of its molecular components, each exhibiting its own behaviour. Thus the capacity for emergence - pattern formation, recursive effect, complex and unexpected behaviours, densities and sparseness, emerging from simple rules applied to and/or extracted from the data mass.


The growing scope of digital data has already had a profound effect on ontology and subjectivity. Today we try to understand the complexity of socio-enviro-political systems through our exposure to a proliferation of data, and its myriad forms of imprintedness (visualisation). From dynamic weather maps, to virtual heritage & applications in epidemiology, and from tracking polluted water to pattern recognition in complex crimes like corporate fraud, new strata of subjects and subjectivity emerge.

Yet this impactful phenomenon is further complicated by contentious issues of data ‘accuracy’ and ownership, and the cultural specificity of the forms and aesthetics of visualisation. Access to data and complex visualisations does not necessarily make for a more culturally sensitive or comprehensive understanding of ‘deep space’ - that combinative trope of physical place and social connectedness that we inhabit. Neither do new mapping technologies interrogate, celebrate or account for the poetical and speculative affects of notions of space, human consciousness and subjectivity in space. Nor do extensive amounts of data mitigate against the phenomenon of ‘compassion fatigue’ plaguing the western world today. Exploration of the data trope is both timely and very exciting for digital artists.