[ISEA2011] Paper: Jeremy Pilcher – The Rhetorical Art of Data Visualization


Visualization as a technique of analysis has been employed by a wide range of disciplines in order to better understand large quantities of data about systems. The malleability of data and information in digital form, together with the interactive potential of real-time technologies, has made the use of the technique on computers and the internet particularly effective. The value of data visualization is generally understood in terms of the accuracy of the representation. This approach to the technique may commonly be identified in the way in which data visualization, when employed as a social critique in activist art, has been interpreted. Such art work on the internet has focussed attention on, for example, the use of the internet by corporations to acquire data in the pursuit of power and commercial gain. However, understood in these terms, the artistic use of data visualization has been criticised. The value of the technique to engage artistically with the immersion of societies in data flows whose speed and intensity have been accelerated by the internet has been doubted. Questions have been raised as to whether or how its use by art may be differentiated from visualisations effectively employed by other disciplines.  I will propose that data visualization in art, instead of being approached in terms of whether it is a truthful representation of the world, may be understood to have rhetorical force.  My argument, using the work of Jacques Derrida, is that art may open a critical awareness of the value-systems and hierarchies of importance that give rise to the networks and data flows that are visualized. I will focus specifically on the way that legal systems enable the creation and enforcement of certain types of entities and relationships, such as corporations and their directors. Internet art may allow viewers to reflect on the justice of the system being critiqued through the interactive visualization of the contingent and finite networks that are represented. In doing so, internet art may allow for the arrival of what an existing social order has to occlude in order to maintain its existence without change.

  • Jeremy Pilcher is currently working with the artist Terry Duffy on the first installation in London, as part of the Bloomsbury Festival, of the abstract work ‘Monuments’.  In addition, as part of Jeremy’s involvement with the editorial board of the organisation, ‘Computers and the History of Art’, he is putting together a volume of essays looking at the intersection of the law, real-time digital technologies and art. Jeremy’s research builds on both his professional experience and academic qualifications in art history and art law. His work involves critically examining legal systems and organisations of capitalist accumulation. He has engaged with how art may invite judgements to be made about the actions and responsibilities of both people and companies. Jeremy locates the political force of art in the way it is able to open an awareness of the contingency of social bonds constructed by laws.  He has also jointly published papers about online museums that engage with the intangible culture of indigenous peoples. Jeremy started a legal career in New Zealand as a Crown prosecutor in Christchurch before moving on to work as a litigator for a top tier commercial law firm in Auckland. After he moved to England, Jeremy worked for the Insolvency Service, which is part of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills and qualified as a Solicitor. birkbeck.academia.edu/JeremyPilcher

Full text (PDF) p. 1928-1933