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Sign of The Times: Data Visualization Heaven

158 years of the cultural dialog, replayed and rewritten in visual language.

Newspapers have long been a paradise of visual information — from the early 20th century isotype language pioneered by Otto Neurath, to the elaborate vintage infographics we so love. So imagine our excitement when The New York Times announced Times Open last week, an open API initiative encouraging the development of applications around The Times‘ enormous vault of data.

If you swim in the shallow end of the geek pool, fear not: Here’s the Cliff’s Notes on API — it stands for application programing interface and is pretty much what shapes the behavior of one application as it interacts with others. For example, a WordPress plugin that displays your latest tweets on your blog uses the Twitter API to work the magic.

But what makes the NYT development particularly important is that the API opens up data from the paper’s entire 158-year archive — from the Civil War to the moon landing to the latest Radiohead album reviews — allowing developers and artists alike to do just about anything with it.

And they already are.

Vancouver-based generative software artist Jer Thorp has done a series of visualizations exploring the social conversation around certain terms as reflected in The Times over the last 27 years.

From the gossip on sex and scandal, to a face-off between the most iconic superheroes, to the increasing anxiety about global warming, the series is a visual documentary of our collective concern over issues big and small, the kind of mundane chatter and momentous movements that define a culture.

San Diego artist and developer Tim Schwartz is digging even deeper with visualizations of history that use The New York Times’ entire 158-year corpus of data. His interface plots terms over time, exploring how the cultural dialog has changed as our society evolves. It’s amazing to think some of our cultural givens were virtually nonexistent less than a century ago — like, for example, homosexuality, practically unspoken about publicly until the 70’s.

But perhaps most fascinating is how this changes and almost reverses the relationship between newspapers and data visualization — traditionally, infographics in publishing are visual representations of extraneous information that complements the newspaper’s depiction of the outside world, its message. This — the visualization of meta-data about the newspaper itself — is pretty much the opposite, an introspective analysis of the medium as it shapes the message.

If you find yourself intrigued by and drawn to this world of data visualization, do check out this excellent introduction to it, a wonderful find by our friends at BBH Labs.

via Nieman Journalism Lab

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The Secret Lives of Secret Places

What NYC rats have to do with Les Miserables, med school dropouts and photographic genius.

When Seoul-born artist Miru Kim moved to New York to attend college in 1999, she wasn’t officially an “artist” — she was a pre-med student interested in anatomy. But she grew increasingly fascinated by the city itself and began to look at it is a living organism, itching to dissect it and reveal its hidden layers. So she scrapped med school and decided to get an MFA instead.

In grad school, Kim became interested in the creatures that dwell on the fringes of society, in the hidden parts of the city. So she began photographing New York City rats. Eventually, she started going into the tunnels, discovering a whole new dimension to the city that most people don’t get to see. She connected with a subculture of like-minded urban explorers, adventurers and guerrilla historians, but somehow felt there was something missing from her photographs of these demolished underground spaces.

So she decided to create a fictional character that dwells in these places — the easiest way to do it was to model herself.

I decided against any clothing because I wanted the figure to be without any cultural implications or time-specific elements. I wanted a simple way to represent a living body inhabiting these decaying, derelict spaces.

This gave birth to a series titled Naked City Spleen, an allusion to Charles Baudelaire’s Paris SpleenNaked City is the nickname for New York, and spleen captures “the melancholy inertia that comes from being alienated in an urban environment.”

The project took Kim around the world in search of hidden places — from the catacombs of Paris to London’s River Tyburn to the 19th century homeless asylums of Berlin. Her work, however, is about more than just the mere documentation of decay.

I like doing more than just exploring these spaces and feel an obligation to animate and humanize [them] continually in order to preserve their memories in a creative way before they’re lost forever.

Kim eventually went on to shoot two films on 60mm black-and-white film — Blind Door and Blind Window — as she became more interested in capturing movement and texture.

Watch her inspired TED talk, for a deeper look at the artist’s process, her unique brand of inspiration, and the cultural resonance of her work.

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The Art of Identity

What bathroom signage has to do with aviator masks and our shared existential journey.

The notion of identity has always been a fundamental subject of restless exploration in art. Today, we look at 3 very different creative meditations on the tools of crafting, disguising and exposing the self — masks and costumes.

LOS VOCALINO BROTHERS

Argentinian brothers Ariel and Sebas Vocalino are a double shot of talent. The art director (Ariel) and photographer (Sebas) duo’s latest project, a digital series titled Turista, explores the existential journey each of us is on through the eyes of a lonely traveler.

The tourist is, for us, a man who knows that is on the way, who enjoys every moment and every place he walks by. The tourist is someone who lives the present very consciously. He is a person who is lonely and connects to the places through his look.

In the first part of the series, the masked voyager has traveled to places from the brothers’ own lives — their parents’ apartment, their club, downtown in their hometown of Buenos Aires — places and situations common for the brothers, into which they invite others through the tourist.

This excellent interview with the brothers sheds light on their creative process, their inspiration, and the places the tourist is yet to take them — take a look.

BOB BASSET’S STEAMPUNK MASKS

It’s no secret we love steampunk. Which is why we dig Ukrainian artist Bob Basset’s steampunk take on culture’s most (in)famous masks.

From aviators to doctors to gas masks, his work ranges from the bizarre to the brilliant, meticulously crafted and implicitly concerned with culture’s historical need for facewear.

Now, if he could only steampunk that Joker ski mask

via BoingBoing

THE PEDESTRIAN PROJECT

In 1989, New York costume designer Yvette Helin became increasingly fascinated by the generic graphic images of people used on many types of signage — faceless figures intended to convey broader concepts. This gave birth to ongoing performance art known as The Pedestrian Project — silent performers wearing entirely black custom-made costumes modeled after the signs, roaming the streets and other public venues and mimicking the lives of everyday people.

Since the project’s inception, The Peds have toured the world, from the MoMA to the Prague Quadrennial.

The project is part visual art, part pure whimsy, part social satire that challenges onlookers to do a double-take as they see the familiar graphic icons from signs come to life.

We see the project as a brilliant metaphor for our culture of facelessness — we live in our own little bubbles, iPod earbuds shutting off the outside world, gaze glazing over the swarm of passengers on the subway. We miss the complexity of each stranger we pass by in the street, their passions, their tribulations, their everyday reality. The Peds challenge us to rethink what we dismiss as faceless and generic, to consider the private truths within the public personas we encounter.

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Monday Music Muse: Blame Ringo

Why Ringo Starr may not be the lovable Liverpudlian the world’s most liberal media portray him to be.

In 2007, four fantastic musicians came together in Brisbane to form an equally fantastic band. It was called Goodnight Vienna. Then they got a legal threat — from none other than Richard Starkey Jr., better known to the rest of us as Ringo Starr. Turns out, Goodnight Vienna was the name of Ringo’s fourth studio album and although he “thoroughly enjoyed the music,” he felt “obligated to dissuade any profiteering which resulted from the use of his intellectual property.”blameringo

Ahem.

So, naturally, the band changed its name to Blame Ringo.

Genius.

Today, Blame Ringo is on a mission to seek revenge on Ringo — which, of course, is just a tongue-in-cheek front for imparting their excellent music on the unsuspecting world. And excellent it is — if Fleet Foxes, Beck, I’m From Barcelona and Guillemots went on tour together, Blame Ringo would be that tour — vocals that flow from hauntingly cloudiness to peppy sunlight, guitar solos that can put George Harrison to shame, and an occasional jazzy trumpet that’s like the dash of cinnamon on top of your cappuccino, taking it from delicious to pure delight.

And, yes, there may be a bit of that Beatlesque vibe in there, too.

But what we loved most about the band was their wonderful and clever promo for Garble Arch, the first single from their debut album Lucky Number 9 A Day in the Life of Abbey Road, an utterly delightful stop-motion video shot on, yes, the Abbey Road.

So if you’re a Beatles aficionado, an appreciator of quirk, or just a lover of really, really good music, grab Lucky Number 9 and join the conspiracy. And take a moment to explore the band website, full of delightfully hilarious nuggets of anti-Ringo propaganda.

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