Representing Complexity in Graphics
I have posted here numerous times on Ed Tufte and his work on data graphics. I've been working on and off for a while on a paper linking his views with more explicitly political graphics. So, here is an interesting convergence.
Tufte's first book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information concludes like this:
"What is to be sought in designs for the display of information is the clear portrayal of complexity. Not the complication of the simple; rather the task of the designer is to give visual access to the subtle and the difficult - that is, the revelation of the complex."And here is part of a conversation with my colleague Douglas Crimp that you can find at the ACT UP Oral History Project in which he discusses the graphical strategies that activists in ACT UP devised in the late 1980s and early 1990s:
"I think that maybe one of the great things that ACT UP was able to do was to figure out ways of putting a certain complexity into sloganeering. Silence Equals Death is an extremely vague, and at the same time, extremely resonant image text, that, I mean, the way I wrote about it in AIDS Demo Graphics was that it was partly because one doesn’t necessarily immediately know what it means; what that pink triangle is, for example; why it’s upside down, in relation to the way it was historically used; how it was historically used. That’s not all right there. And yet, it became incredibly resonant for that very reason. So I think that there are ways, graphically and textually, to constitute a certain complexity. And I think that that was one of the achievements of the graphic and other representational work that ACT UP did."The conversation took place in the spring of 2007, and Crimp is reflecting on events two decades earlier. The remarkable similarity between his language and Tufte's struck me. What strikes me too is that the ACT UP graphics really are data graphics. This is true not just because of the central mathematical symbol in Silence = Death, but because of the statistical materials that appeared in many other ACT UP graphics.