[-empyre-] Visualization between robotics and baked goods

Annina Ruest arust at syr.edu
Tue Jul 12 01:34:46 AEST 2016


I very much enjoyed reading last week’s discussion! Catherine, thank you for linking the Bardzell article about feminist HCI!

So how does my work connect to the topic of feminist data visualization? (disclosure: a paragraph or two of the text is copied from a paper I wrote in 2014). The cited links are at the bottom of the text.

In 2013, I exhibited the first version of my project “A Piece of the Pie Chart” [1 a, b, c, etc.]. It’s a feminist food robot that visualizes the gender gap in art and tech workplaces on edible pies. Inspired by industrial production lines, the gallery installation consists of a computer workstation and a food robot. The food robot puts pie charts depicting the gender gap in ratio form onto edible, pre-baked pies. The data changes depending on where the project is exhibited. Visitors use the robot to create pies using an automatized assembly line. As part of the process, pictures of the pies are automatically disseminated via Twitter. Visitors can then take the pies to their own workplace to start a discussion with colleagues or mail the pies to the workplaces where the data originated to remind those in charge how large/small the slice of the art and tech pies women can claim for themselves.

In “A Piece of the Pie Chart”, I am combining visualization of gender data stemming from art and tech workplaces with action. Mapping gender data onto edible pies adds material representation to gender statistics. The pies are a multisensory symbol explaining how women fare in art and tech. They show that women receive a small share of what this kind of work has to offer. This data mapping style adds urgency to the feminist cause: It is not a data visualization to be passively consumed. What comes out of the machine is an object along with instructions to mail it to the place where the data originated. It asks people to take action and gives them directions for mailing or tweeting the pies.

To those receiving the pie tweets, it might not be obvious that the pies are decorated by a robot. But the robotic part is important. The robot performs for the audience in the exhibition. The project is inspired by by the data visualization language of the feminist protest movement in art. It is a visualization style that actively and overtly seeks social justice for women (artists). This visualization work often uses performance, humor, and collaboration as a strategy to get a point across in a disarming but nonetheless insistent way. This includes a critical relationship to quantitative data and data visualization itself. Some examples for this feminist visualization style are the Gallery Tally Project (directed by Micol Hebron) [2], the work of the Guerilla Girls [3], and the work of the Los Angeles Council of Women Artists and affiliated groups who were protesting LACMA in the 1970s [4]. and 1980s [5] with data and visualization and are still collecting data today. Some of these groups work within the art system. But they may also just show up uninvited to create visualizations. A recent example for this is the “Where is Ana Mendieta?” protest at the Tate [6]. Many of these protesters past and present have exposed themselves to great personal risk in creating these visualizations (I have not – at least not recently).

I think that it’s good to think about how feminist data visualization can be defined to heighten the importance of the genre to data visualization, design, HCI, art, and culture more broadly. Here is something I am a bit conflicted about: I am worried that designers & technologists may take a definition of feminist data visualization (or HCI) and try to add it to their project as an ingredient that will make their project instantly feminist (yum!) instead of thinking about the gender implications of their work more broadly. In my experience, I would say that most feminist data visualizations that I know of do not check all the boxes of what feminist data visualization is (and can be). And this does not make them any less powerful or take away from the fact that they are examples of feminist data visualization as a developing historical genre in art, design, and tech.


[1a] This is a video of the first iteration of A Piece of the Pie Chart using low-cost toy robotics: https://vimeo.com/79534316

[1b] This is a video the second iteration as it was exhibited at the Art+Tech lab at LACMA in 2015: https://vimeo.com/129279879

[1c] To give exhibition visitors a chance to draw not just pre-curated gender data onto pies, I created a robot in 2015 that draws pie charts directly onto a pie using edible marker on rice paper https://vimeo.com/121100639 . I exhibited it at Haus der Elektronischen Künste (Basel) in the context of Critical Make, a critical Maker Faire. I was there for about a week asking people what kinds of data they would like to have visualized on a pie and encouraging them to take the pies to their workplaces to discuss economic inequality.

[1d] I also built an interactive website called “A Piece of (In)equality” http://www.anninaruest.com/pieceofinequality/ that helps me collect data and visualize it on pies.

[1e] Together with the awesome Micol Hebron, I organized a feminist data collect-a-thon at LACMA in 2015. Participants brought their own data, but we also worked with data from the LACMA collection. Here are some examples:

[1f] And last but not least, I wrote about my project in the context of data visualization:

Data as Feminist Protest (2014) http://unframed.lacma.org//2014/07/10/data-as-feminist-protest/

And feminist data visualization and robotics:  http://anninaruest.com/papers/SiggraphPaper1.pdf

[2]  http://gallerytally.tumblr.com/

[3]  http://www.guerrillagirls.com

[4]  http://blogs.getty.edu/pacificstandardtime/explore-the-era/archives/i143/

[5]  http://bit.ly/29JAqLw

[6] http://www.huckmagazine.com/perspectives/reportage-2/ana-tate/

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