TDDE 131 Week 4: Mapping, Catalogs & Conceptual Art

[Some Demonstrations]
[Critique of last week’s assignments]
[Independent & Dependent Variables]
[Mapping & Catalogs]
[Conceptual Art]
[Conceptual Art Exercise]

Pre-class reading:

  • “The Universe as Primal Scream” and “Challenger” from Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith

  • “Instruction Painting” excerpts by Yoko Ono

  • Introduction to Dematerialization of the Art Object by Lucy Lippard

6pm-6:15pm: Quick demo of IR camera

IR camera – what world looks like at different wavelengths

Demonstration of spectral emission tubes – give a context of spectral data examined in assignment

6:15pm-7:45pm: Critique of Assignments

Michael discussed in more detail the “rules of critique”:

  • when being critiqued, do not respond – you are not defending your work, just listening to the ideas and interpretations
  • we’re not going to tell you you screwed up, but we might want to discuss things we’re confused about
  • When do we explain what we’re doing?  in art you don’t always get the opportunity to clarify!

Assignment was to take a spectrum (wavelength, flux and uncertainty) and produce (1) a graphical visualization of the data and (2) a non-graphical, non-pictorial representation of the data

Melisa & Ryan

Melissa and Ryan Project 3

  • graphical version: “50 shades of grey” 3D construction in Adobe Photoshop – wavelength is width, flux is shade
  • responses – get a sense of time, a waveform, different angles speak more – city skyline, noisy audio waveform, suggestion of a physical sculpture, an ancient object
  • scale is difficult to interpret – is this a big thing, a small thing?
  • having it in Adobe – checkboard background is part of image, distracts from object – one of the decisions to be made is how object is shown – static image? animation?
  • non-graphical – interactive simulation with Resolume – wavelength is speed, flux is number of cubes present, error is size of symboles, also controlled by group (responds to sound)
  • there was some confusion/discussion as to whether this was graphical or not – data was transformed into rules that governs graphical image
  • responsiveness and interactivity made it unclear as to how data played a role
  • brave to work with something interactive – there is a delight to controlling a work – could play with choices on how interaction occured and match it up to data
  • Adam general comment: context of data – what is this source? what is its story? this doesn’t seem to have been included here
  • liked color of nongraphical – sense of play
  • symbol /images for nongraphical were not imbued with meaning so inherently not interesting – think about how you can use these elements for more meaning (e.g., display diary)

Aisha & Adriana


  • graphical: mathematica 3D animated model
  • mathematica is a tool of the physics discipline, so interesting to use it here for “art”
  • again, showing the artiface of the tool is distracting, so we lose the piece; also grid, axes and numbers were distracting – focusing on that instead of piece
  • undulating motion, folding morphology was interesting, although animation was a bit choppy
  • self-critique – felt she was cheating by using uncertainty as independent parameter – encouraged to think beyond these constraints!
  • assumption by all groups is that 3D display is required for 3 columns of data – in fact not a requirement!
  • “Flux” nongraphical version – “Flux” – spiral tracing out plot, zoom plot, and audio
  • Audacity software for sound: data -> audio was hard to manipulate – getting it into audio range
  • audio was primary piece – visuals were secondary – just sound alone would have been sufficient without visuals
  • moving spiral was a bit blocky
  • pieces constructed fairly independently, but with visual connection between the two – both red

Duy & Elliot

Screen shot 2013-06-18 at 12.10.02 AM

  • graphical  – triptic of three graphs, bubbles on different sizes across page, with 3 different rules for assigning these (generated in Excel)
  • greyscale bubbles – deliberate choice to not use color
  • no artiface of construction (no grid lines, software casing), so can focus on the graphics aspects of the picture; still had to make a choice to print on paper, arrangement
  • made use of logarithmic scaling – data manipulation
  • not a science lesson – it is another layer of exploration and experience
  • non-graphical – each walking back and forth on snap beats
  • nice soundscape – snaps, walking, echo of hallway
  • points of connection were interesting (looking at each other), connection with those not involved in the piece (others walking down hallway)
  • structure had variation – made it interesting, whimsical
  • columnar format of movement – visually reflective of data itself

Adrian & Tasha


  • graphical – bubbling effervesance created using blender
  • visually interesting and fluid, unfortunately looks uncomfortably like a screensaver
  • images were again not particularly chosen – more deliberate would be better
  • discussion and controversy – is this a graphical representation?  motion is deterministic, rather than interactive; both this piece and Melisa/Ryan piece challenges this boundary (great!)
  • non-graphical – sonification of data
  • heavy sounds of noise, but had a rhythmic quality to it
  • some of us thought about this from the data perspective, some thought of it as the experience
  • construction was far more complex than noise=uncertainty – it was created via overlapping tracks

7:45pm-8:00pm: More on plotting dependent/independent variables (Adam)

Slides are here

Screen shot 2013-04-29 at 12.06.11 AM

standard plot format

  • horizontal axis is independent variable – can be changed at will
  • vertical axis is dependent variable – cannot be changed, an outcome of the process you are studying
  • additional axis(es) – may be dependent or independent
  • symbology – may be dependent or independent

These rules can be broken; a nice example is Hertzsprung-Russel diagram of stars:

  • axes are temperature and total luminosity
  • color is a redundant encoding of temperature
  • size of symbols reflects sizes of stars
  • shading reflects where stars “live” on this diagram

none of these encodings reflect true independent variables, which is the mass and age of the star which dictate all the other plotted variables

Axes are negotiable: consider normal periodic table, where alignment of grid reflects symmetry in chemical properties (horizontal axis is the number of electrons in outermost shell that form bonds; vertical axis indicates larger atomic sizes).

An alternate looped mapping provides better reflects the periodicity in chemical behaviors., and the digressions to transition metals, lathanides & actinides as the electron shell becomes more complex.

There are some additional examples of interesting data plots that mix up dependent and independent at

7:45pm-8:00pm: Mapping (Adam)

Primary exercise in astronomy is mapping – stars are located in the sky on “celestial sphere”, which requires only 2 angles to define:

altitude (how high above horizon) and azimuth (angle from left to right from where you are facing)


declination (angle above equatorial line) and right ascension (angle from left to right relative to specified reference point)


These are the equivalent of latitude and longitude on Earth.

With only two measures for position, maps are usually 2D objects, with a variety of ways of to account for the distortion that happens when you take a curved surface of a sphere and apply it to a flat piece of paper


Here’s an example of a Mercator projection of Mars (looking down), with color signifying terrain height; we easily discern there is something different about the two hemispheres of this planet, and what would be ocean if it had water on it.

And here’s a map of the entire sky from the Two Micron All Sky Survey (looking up), with color indicating the number of stars in a given pixel – we immediate see the shape of our Galaxy, and a couple of galactic satellites (the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds to the lower right).


A catalog is a map of several celestial objects with their positions and other attributes (brightness, color, etc) gathered together. Much of astronomy today is focused on creating, manipulating and searching through massive catalogs, in some cases consisting of billions of stars.  Visualization of these catalogs is the subject of your assignment.

A nice astronomical catalog to use is the NASA/IPAC Infrared Science Archive (IRSA):

You can selected from among over a dozen catalogs, enter coordinates, and get out a database of mapping information.  Demonstration of how to do this is provided in an separate blog post.

8:15pm-8:50pm: Conceptual Art (Michael)

a classical painting visualizes a narrative; an abstract painting stimulates our optical nerves, and we may read or impose a narrative on it – both of these are neverthelesss visual forms of art, which encompasses most art.

Perhaps the most important piece of art in modern era – Marcel duChamp’s 1917 Fountain:

Yes, this is a urinal.

A legitimate complaint – is this art? duChamp is making a point that this is an object, and the idea of art as object, not just the creation of an artist

Conceptual art is about idea, not the image/visual or the craftmanship or even whether we like it – this is a provacative idea, but is the foundation of contemporary art today

gets away from the “this pleases me” to “this provokes my thoughts”

Another example is Robert Rauschenberg’s 1953 Erased de Kooning Drawing:

The idea of what happened, what was there, the absence of the piece is counter-representational and counter-optical – it relies on the mind

On Kawara has painted the date every day for 50 years – not van gogh, but stimulates thought – one thinks about the scale of this project, the obsession of the artist, the events associated with these dates, temporal scale of archive

Yoko Ono – important conceptual artist part of Fluxus created paintings which were instructions for things to be imagined – cuts against idea of what painting is supposed to be (also Sol Lewitt)


Conceptual artists rely on you to trust them – they are not tricking you into thinking this is art

There is a good synergy here in the trust of scientists, that they are not tricking you on global climate change, medical research, etc.

Trust is also about the historical element – this work was exceptional in the 1960s, we’ve now grown up in the presence of this artform and it appears almost trivial.

8:45pm – Departure: Exercise on Conceptual Art

Consider the planets in the solar system (map at  Write down a memory/emotion/experience that is related to/associated with the characteristic of each of the 8 planets + Pluto:

  • Mercury – a very hot memory
  • Venus – a very dry, inhospitable memory
  • Earth – a memory of home
  • Mars – a memory of anger
  • Jupiter – a very large memory
  • Saturn – a very beautiful memory
  • Uranus – a very funny memory
  • Neptune – a memory of a distant place
  • Pluto – a memory of being ignored/rejected

We randomize and redistribute these memories, and your job is to, along the way home, step through the scaled orbital ranges and internally experience the memory given to you.  Remember this is about trust!


Use the IRSA website to create a catalog of 10-20 stars – their positions and various attributes.  You may choose any of the catalogs, and select any region of sky you wish (you can put in names of special stars or celestial objects if you don’t have a coordinate handy).  Use this information to create a graphical map with each point representing at least three attributes of the star (note: can be hand drawn); and an emotion/memory/experience map of the kind we did with the Solar System. (this latter part is optional!)

Also, download the program Isadora and experiment with it before our class next week (which will be in Galbraith 18B)

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