Mat Van Den Art's Blog

Appendix 1

Posted in MDes Dissertation by matvandenart on August 11, 2010


In my creative strive for finding visually pleasing forms of data/information visualization I was inspired by Barbara Hann and Christine Zimmermann’s seminar which was based around the data visualization issue and how these two Swiss graphic designers were able to engage with the challenge and find their own visual style.

Modes of communication change depending on the unique properties of each media. Some media are more durable (writing carved in stone), some are easier to transport (writing on paper), some work better from a close distance (photography) and others render distance and time irrelevant (mail, email). In terms of distribution, some media are for communicating one-to-many (radio, tv), some one-to-one (telephone), and still others many-to-many (internet).

Knowledge visualization: Problems and Principles for Mapping the Knowledge Space – gregory briand Judelman – 38 – University of Lübeck, Germany

With the advent of digital communication technologies, an enormous quantity of information can be stored and transferred. This incredible communication potential of integrated internet networking has created new opportunities for data/information to be generated, shared, transferred and new knowledge to be generated starting the new cycle again.

During the visualization research phase of the project I have been greatly influenced by a Swedish professor of international health Hans Rosling and his data visualization initiative called GapMinder. Rosling developed GapMinderas a personal initiative project which would help global governments to make more precise aid, development and financial decisions based on innovative ways of displaying statistical data.

To see GapMinder application click here

GapMinder simplifies the decision-making process on all levels of decision-making ladder  by  allowing instant access to the latest statistic information from various sources being displayed in the form understandable for human brain. Rosling’s approach to data visualization involves display not only economic information but also social and health related information comparison of which helps us to generate new knowledge.

Gianbattista Vico argued, knowledge invention involves not only ingenuity and imagination, but recollection. In my view, one of the primary functions of creative research is to study, document and valorise these periods in which the usual logic of combination is suspended.

Practice as research: approaches to creative arts enquiry, By Estelle Barrett, Barbara Bolt, 22p

What Vico says is that we do not need to search for new knowledge/information in new places but we can gain it by combining the information already available to us simply displayed in appropriate innovative form.

Cristobal Vila in his short film Nature by Numbers was able to interpret mathematical formulas of Fibonacci Series and Spiral, The Golden and Angle Ratios, The Delauney Triangulation and Voronoi Tessellations in the visual form assuring understanding by general public.  Vila was able to show the audience these formulas have reality beyond the minds of mathematicians. They present themselves in nature. Choice of innovative visualization method enabled Christobal Vila’s project to generate new awareness and possibly generate new personal knowledge for individual audience members.

Another example of innovative visualization of a data source is Turbulence project. In this project Robert Hodgins uses innovative way of displaying interactive particle data maps driven by an audio data input. Hodgins used Processing programming language to achieve his artistic vision.  Single information threads were assigned to the individual moving particles which played role of visual data holders. General image motion was invoked by interaction of individual particles put in motion by external information feeds.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Robert Hodgins was able to prove the simple graphic elements as dots if given generally recognisable properties can be perceived by human mind as data we can interpret in the real world. By assigning generally recognisable name and properties to particles we are able to simulate real-time informational flows. This idea was further explored by James Frost – film director – in his concept design for Radioheads music videoclip.

James Frost in House of Cards video clip used scanned information of a human face translating it into three dimensional placement of dots on computer screeen. Each particle rendered on the screen corresponds with a certain point of singer’s face. Human brain is able to link individual particles and interpret the dotted information as a human face again. Frost took information source and changed its visualization method relying on audience’s ability to interpret and understand the output information. This approach to data visualization explores human ability to recognize and process atypical/new information sources and interpret them into real-world understanding triggering possibility of new knowledge.

During the course of creation visual narrative for my MDes project I was inspired by upper mentioned artists and their individual innovative ways of data displaying and sharing. In the project I have been using statistical and mathematical data concerning the globalizatized capitalism to create new visual representation of the data combining statistical approach of Hans Rosling with interpretational approach of Christobal Vila and minimalistic style of James Frost all described earlier.


In the project I do not aim to display the information in its real world form but rather in the form of mathematical representation of the data as seen by computer logic. In my pursuit for finding the best possible combination of visualization methods/techniques and modern technologies enabling me to successfully interact with the audience I decided to use Flash and Processing programming environment allowing me to feed realtime data to the  application programmed to be able to interpret input data in graphical form while the audience interacts with the application through the input medium (mouse, keyboard, camera)

Working as digital designer it has been often required of me in my practice to innovatively interpret various analogue data sources within digital environment. However investigation into Joshua Davis’s praystation as well as Peter de Jong and Clifford’s mathematical representation of simple attractors helped me to uncover the hidden world of unconscious information transmission between living object and the source of information what Freud calls unconscious simultaneous exploring.

xn+1 = sin(a yn) – cos(b xn)

yn+1 = sin(c xn) – cos(d yn)

Sigmund Freud was given to describing ideas in topographical terms. The period preliminary to dreaming, he said, was like a country whose terrain is characterised by a dense network of paths or unconscious wishes. The beginning of a dream process, which occurs when the preconscious is aroused, is “a simultaneous exploring of one path and another, a swinging excitation now this way and now that, until last the dream-wish accumulates in the direction that is mostly opportune”

Letters of Sigmund Freud – selected and edited by Ernst Ludwig Freud, Publisher: New York: Basic Books, 1960, p 576

What Freud describes in this quote is the human ability to unconsciously recognize and interpret acquired information based on our previous experience or contemporary interests. I would like to use these unconscious characteristics of human brain activity to interact with the audience through my art work.

During the research phase of the project I’ve found myself becoming fascinated by mathematical representation of flocking and swarm behaviours and the notion that complex systems could be created from relatively simple components. It is possible to program an agent to have only a limited set of abilities and awareness, define a set rules for it to follow, and then create a multitude of instances of the agent to see what patterns begin to emerge through their interactions.

This principle is covered in Craig Reynold’s paper: Steering Behaviors for Autonomous Characters

Autonomous characters are a type of autonomous agent intended for use in computer animation and interactive media such as games and virtual reality. These agents represent a character in a story or game and have some ability to improvise their actions. This stands in contrast both to a character in an animated film, whose actions are scripted in advance, and to an “avatar” in a game or virtual reality, whose actions are directed in real time by a human player or participant. In games, autonomous characters are sometimes called non-player characters.

Arkin, Ronald (1992) “Behavior-based Robot Navigation in Extended Domains”, Journal of Adaptive Behavior, 1(2) pages 201-225.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Flocking is a great example of this, as Reynolds demonstrates. His agents, or “Boids”, could perform certain manoeuvres, such as seeking a target, fleeing from a predator, avoiding obstacles or wandering randomly. Combine these behaviours though, and allow each Boid to consider it’s neighbours when deciding on its locomotion, and complex behaviours begin to emerge. When the instance of interactivity is added to the system Boid’s particle future behaviour, triggered by information input (database, mouse, keyboard, camera) becomes a digital avatar of a person interacting with it. An avatar whose life you can not fully control because you can not affect behaviour models of surrounding boids/particles in the equation. Digital simulation of such behaviours is innovative portrayal of what Che Guevarra described as:  The laws of capitalism, which are blind and are invisible to ordinary people, act upon the individual without he or she being aware of it or being able to change the circumstances in which the the system operates.

My intention has been to portray our everyday blindness to how actions triggered by us are trickled down the globalized capitalistic system as well as our inability to control the circumstances in which we operate/the system itself. Alexandra Kokoli’s “the uncanny” seminar reviewing Freud’s work in psychoanalysis inspired me to base my artwork on combination of Fredus unconscious  “simultaneous exploring” and what Reynolds describes as virtual reality “avatar” in the random or data driven environment where a player/audience in only able to affect the initial stage of the process but has no control over the final result – in project’s case the final visual.

Global capitalism enabled the human race to master its qualities, helped the union of international knowledge in engineering or medicine and gave the privileged people the freedom of choice. However with the increasing spread of economic globalization it is ever more difficult to understand and properly interpret complex monetary, environmental and social processes involved. In my project I would like to remit to the fact in certain parts of the world people are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the everyday decisions and actions of people living on the other side of the globe caused by structural problems of globalized capitalism. I would like to expose and highlight the fact individually we can not control the impacts of our social and economic habits to other people lives.



Ernst Ludwig Freud. Letters of Sigmund Freud – selected and edited by Ernst Ludwig Freud. Publisher: New York: Basic Books; 1960.

Estelle Barrett, Barbara Bolt. Practice as research: Approaches to creative arts enquiry. Publisher: I.B.Tauris; 2007.

Gregory Briand Judelman. Knowledge visualization: Problems and Principles for Mapping the Knowledge Space. Publisher:University of Lübeck; 2004.


Arkin, Ronald.  Journal of Adaptive Behavior: “Behavior-based Robot Navigation in Extended Domains”. Publisher: ISAB; 1992

Websites – Interactive and Video Presentations

Craig W. Reynolds:; 2000-2010[updated 2010 March 7; referenced 2010 May 07] Available from:

Cristobal Vila:; 2005-2010[updated 2010; referenced 2010 May 07] Available from:

Hans Rosling:; 2002-2010[updated 2010; referenced 2010 May 07] Available from:

Hans Rosling:; 1996-2010[updated 2007 Jan 14; referenced 2010 May 07]Available from:

James Frost:; 2001-2010[updated 2010; referenced 2010 May 07] Available from:

Justin Windle – Soulwire Art & Technology:; 2005-2010[updated 2010; referenced 2010 May 07] Available from:

Robert Hodgin:; 2003-2010[updated 2010; referenced 2010 May 07] Available from:


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  1. Content « Mat Van Den Art's Blog said, on August 11, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    […] APPENDIX 1 […]

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