« Amusica | all research | Libraries & Space »

Controversy Visualization

The Center for the Arts in Society is engaged in an effort to study, analyze, and archive arts controversies. Building on a model of controversies developed by Ph.D. student Peter Cramer, I was brought on to the project to participate by developing a method for visualizing controversies based on Peter’s model. Peter and I collaborated on this project as he continued to develop his model of controversy. The result was a prototype visualization and the specification of a process for the Center to use in analyzing and visualizing controversies.

January 2003 to September 2003
Center for the Arts in Society, Archive of Controversy in the Arts
School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University
[This research project was a collaborative effort between myself and Peter Cramer. Chris Drackett joined the team as the graphic designer and built the demonstration.]

[— demo —] small 95MB (Quicktime)
[— demo —] small 220MB (Quicktime)

The first entry into the Archive of Controversy in the Arts was the Brooklyn Museum Controversy. In the Fall of 1999, The Sensation exhibit on display at the Brooklyn Museum generated a controversy over certain pieces of art in the exhibit that some audiences found questionable. The debate between New York Mayor Rudolph Giulianiand the museum was covered by major newspapers and was the basis for the visualization. Utilizing three axis, the visualization represented the connections between authors of the texts, the content of those texts, and the broader appeals those authors made to historical precedents (eg. The Bible, The U.S. Constitution).

The visualization displayed the newspaper texts of the controversy. The X-axis represented historical time—moving to the left moved backward in time, moving to the right moved forward in time—a linear representation of time. The Y-axis represented Literary Time, a concept developed by Peter Cramer to account for bids made by authors to precedents that may span centuries. «cut»Additionally, these references to texts that are considered foundational to the argument but exist in the past are referred to by the author in “literary present tense”—even though they are quoting someone from perhaps hundreds or years ago, the cite that author as if it were in the present.«/cut» These connections are represented on the Y-axis rather than the X-axis so that large spans of time may be collapsed when the current context may only span several months. The Z-axis represented the level of detail—moving away allowed for an aggregate view of several documents spanning a greater portion of time, moving in allowed for the viewing of just a few documents, or even one specific document.

My role on this project was to work with Peter Cramer, a Ph.D. student developing a model of controversy and develop a visualization based on his analysis. I developed several timeline visualizations in an attempt to represent a large number of texts. As the model of this controversy became more complex, and began to span larger amounts of time, I designed more sophisticated methods for visualizing the information. This eventually led to both the development of a visualization of Peter’s model of the controversy, which yielded the solution to the visualization of the controversy. Near the end of the project, we brought on a graphic designer to help build a demonstration of the visualization. I continued with the strategic design and creative direction of the visualization and the graphic designer built the final demonstration.