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A Data Viz Project That Visualizes A Family History Of Disease

It was her family’s history of neurological illness that inspired the artist Katie Lewis to begin documenting and then mapping the sensation of numbness in her own body. Over a period of 201 days (hence the title) she marked the location as well as the intensity of the sensations with a series of pins.

Lewis began by dividing the form of her body into a grid and then transferred the data onto a wall to an abstract version of her body. In the piece, the location of the pins reference the location of the numbness on her physical self; the number of pins reference the intensity — seven pins is less severe than 12 pins, for instance — and each pinhole is marked with the date that the sensation was recorded. Then, each day’s set of corresponding pins is wrapped in string, a reference, Lewis says, “to the nervous system and also to the connection or lack of connection of information as the piece gets more and more complicated.”

Throughout her work, Lewis has used a variety of low-tech methods to visualize data, including punctured holes in vellum, scored marks on drywall, and draped thread and enamel, and she admits to following the guidelines of Envisioning Information, one of the canonical works by the high priest of information design, Edward Tufte, which uses iconic examples like Gallileo’s observations of Saturn, a 3-D map of a Japanese shrine, a visual proof from Pythagoras, and a New York train schedule to illustrate the universal qualities of good design.

“201 Days” was most recently exhibited in 2010 at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art in an exhibition entitled “Thread.” See more of Lewis’s work at her website here.

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