29 March 2011

'Same.As' Talk - Mon 28th March 2011 - London

Last night I did a talk for Same.As, who bring scientists, technology geeks, artists &  more together to discuss a variety of interesting topics.  Same.As aim to reveal the threads that stitch these diverse individuals together.  The theme of last night's talks was 'visualisation', so I was asked to talk about the work I've done around this subject - my personal project 'Emotionalisation'.  It was great to be asked to speak, but was somewhat nerve-wracking talking to over 100 people crammed into every inch of a tiny pub room, with a lot of them being rather intelligent scientists!  Here's the written version of my talk (this time including the bits that I left out due to extreme nerves): 

Hi, I'm Jade Davies and I'm a London-based freelance creative – creative being a simple title for an arty jack-of-all-trades, though I currently specialise in art direction for photo shoots ranging from conceptual fine art to editorial.

I'm going to talk to you about this data visualisation I did last year, where I used my personal emotions as the data source & represented this data in an unusual, slightly sadistic way.

The human face constantly conveys emotional information through facial expressions, providing an often unconscious window into the vast array of human emotions. Consequently, personal emotional data that I collected over pre-determined time slots throughout one day is visualised using the human face as the canvas to display the data. Due to the unpredictable and unquantifiable nature of human emotion, the pins are plotted in accordance with a sense of where the emotion was felt most in relation to the face; and they are not restricted by a set number of points. Additionally, colour identifies the different core emotions and the depth at which the pins enter the skin describes the intensity of the emotion.

If we take a look at the key, you will see that I categorised each emotion I felt into one of the six core emotions, each one represented by a separate colour – anger/red, joy/orange, love/yellow, surprise/green, sadness/blue and fear/purple. There are three distinct depths at which the pins pierce the skin – mild, moderate & severe. Mild being the pins that only penetrate the surface of the skin, while severe are deep in the flesh. The placing of the pins was scientifically the most random element of this subjective visualisation – with their placement relying on a personal feeling of where each individual emotion was being felt, for example emotions relating to stress might encircle the face (as if you're feeling the pressure), or tiredness may induce emotions to appear densely around the eyes. This factor has an aesthetic purpose though, as the pin placement was led by the nature of this emotional data set.

This visualisation tells the story of one very fraught day in the midst of my final year at university - the type where you find yourself hyper-ventilating in a corner whilst you rock back and forth, muttering about life-alternating degree failure - hence the disproportionate number of purple pins that are pushed in as far as they'll go, representing 'severe fear'.

Friedman of Smashing Magazine is quoted as saying in 2008 that, "Designers often fail to achieve a balance between design and function, creating gorgeous data visualisations which fail to serve their main purpose — to communicate information".
This visualisation is not a “good”/an immediately clear data visualisation, but it does a job that most others fail to achieve – it creates an emotional response from the viewers, and thus creates an undeniable and often sought-after connection between the data and the visual imagery.

This style of data visualisation doesn't allow you to easily take information from it & manipulate it (like a graph or pie-chart), but the process behind it adds a new dimension to data visualisation. By using harsh materials like pins and the soft canvas of a beautiful human face to plot an elusive and, to some, fuzzy data set using a structured and defined method. The balance between emotion and science hangs perfectly in balance, with the end result not only being a unique data visualisation, but also a striking image in its own right.

 The almost sadistic concept of using pins to plot data onto the face invites the viewer to question whether a painful procedure has been inflicted upon the model (and how sadistic I am), particularly when these images are viewed alongside their 3D counterparts of polystyrene heads adorned with pins.
Alternatively, viewers are sometimes convinced of my Photoshop 'whiz-kid' skills, though these weren't employed for this work. 

It took over six hours to adhere the imitation pins that I'd made to the very patient model's face.  Using cosmetic silicon often used for prosthetics in films, and thin acrylic rods that I'd previously painstakingly painted, the model was transformed into a walking, talking, breathing visualisation – bringing the data truly to life.

Check out Same.As

An uninteresting picture of me doing the talk.

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