Good word is in! I’ll be co-chairing and presenting on a panel at this year’s Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Boston (March 21-25, 2012), with my colleague Kris Fallon from UC Berkeley’s Film and Media Department. Kris and I brought these papers together in an attempt to get at the growing transition from “optical” and photorealistic media toward “nonoptical” and interactive media. At the core of all the panelists’ concerns are issues surrounding how we convert or interpret data into forms amenable to handling and understanding, and how such practices exert both rhetorical and epistemological effects on data that in and of itself is neither objective nor sufficient.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 02:00PM-03:45PM (Session C)

C1: Scaling Data’s Many Faces: Data Mining, Information Visualization, and Other Non-optical Vistas
Room: Alcott
Chair: Kristopher Fallon (University of California, Berkeley)
Co-Chair: Alenda Chang (University of California, Berkeley)

Kristopher Fallon (University of California, Berkeley), “The Optic-less Unconscious: Data Journalism and the Quest for Visible Evidence”
Alenda Chang (University of California, Berkeley), “Exponential Vision and the Powers of Ten”
David Bering-Porter (Brown University), “Screening the Genome: Visualization, Speculation, and Uncanny Vitality”
Lyn Goeringer (University of Rhode Island), “Emote = Ping : Data Mining Emotion as Conceptual Art Practice”

Here’s the abstract for my particular talk:

In 1977, Charles and Ray Eames released the short film Powers of Ten, which uses the mathematical and visual framing of a geometric progression to take viewers on a journey from macrocosm to microcosm in just over nine minutes. Touted as surpassing the static image in its presentation of movement between scales, Powers of Ten was itself the inspiration for another qualitative leap in the visualization of scientific information—the evolutionary video game Spore (2008). In Spore, players develop from unicellular organisms adrift in primordial oceans to terrestrial creatures that eventually pursue social organization, progressing from tribal communities to city-states to sophisticated spacefaring civilizations.

Meanwhile, Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison have articulated the history of science as a series of overlapping visual epistemes, beginning with truth-to-nature, proceeding through mechanical objectivity, and ending with trained judgment in the era of nanotechnology. Given the close ties between documentary and scientific ethos, what do we make of an educational science film like Powers of Ten, in which the images are often imaginative composites based on real data, or a game like Spore, where interaction replaces viewing as the dominant perceptual mode?

As Daston and Galison begin to suggest, and as Colin Milburn elaborates in his recent treatise on nanovision, the extension of scientific sight into the subatomic realm promised by Powers of Ten has been fulfilled in unexpected ways—bypassing optics in favor of proprioceptive intimacy, a kind of touching-seeing or Deleuzian haptic vision exemplified by the images produced by scanning tunneling microscopes (STMs). The strange reversals of nonoptical molecular imaging (not to mention the artful depiction of data garnered outside the visible spectrum at the macrocosmic scales of radio, ultraviolet, and infrared astronomy) offer one reading of the transmedia journey from book to film to game that describes Spore’s revival of Powers of Ten. At such scales, and as the cinematic medium evolves into the algorithmic, visualization becomes fabrication, and seeing cannot take place without doing, with important ramifications for the politicization of science.


So, please stop by if you’re attending or presenting at SCMS. We’d love your feedback!