Materialising social form through the creative process

So, as a sociologist and academic, when do I ever get to ‘see’ and ‘feel’ my research once I leave the field? The social world that I study is so dense with sensory information and alive. Once I collapse it down through data analysis, I always feel the loss of the heaving pulse of humanity.

So this gets me wondering…how can I materialise social information? The next question that occurs is why I would do it. I guess I’m interested in the interactivity, user appropriation and insight that making knowledge material may bring.

For many years, I have been writing and thinking about social form and how to transform social information into 3D formats.  As you can see from my previous blog (that I am now retiring), here, there are many ideas that I have built and played with in my creative thinking that aim to visually and tactilely illustrate the environmental structures, social signals, emergent processes and surfaces of communities.

After writing much of my foundational thinking into my book, Research methods and global online communities: A case study, I am ready to embark on the next chapter of this story, which I had to leave out of my previous work into order to complete it.

But now, with the freedom of brain space and new inspirations, it is time to get into the next step, materialising social form through the creative process. I’m interested in translating the conceptual and ethnographic insights that emerged from my research into the Herper community into an interactive exhibition.

This, in my mind, is the first step towards finding ways to animate social data into 3D formats that researchers can use to understand the present and forecast future implications of social action. But first, animating the heartbeat of social form is where I would like to start.

In my mind, this takes the form of engaging sound artists, visual artists, data artists and other creative souls to riff off the ideas I have used and begin the materialisation process.

As social information is like a pulse, and the densities of engagement that indicate community formations within datasets are like a heartbeat, I imagine the first step will be to provide an exhibition that gathers heartbeat data from all that attend. With the aim to translates that into a group visualisation. Movement through the exhibition may trigger sound and light as well as motion in objects that work like puppets or wings.

These simple techniques may be simple but they will gather and rest as people move through the space. In this simplicity, it will hopefully create a desire to engage and play with the exhibition, and thus themselves and all those who have come before them and after them. So in a sense, the interactive exhibition would act as an archive, collective memory and visualisation of the emergent moment.

There will be other forms of data that we can collect from people, however, as with any type of data collection, it needs to be interesting, curiosity generating and easy. So I’ll be working on that side of things!

I’ve always liked the visualisation of how chromatophores work as a way to describe how social form emerges from interaction and I hope to be able to add that idea into the balance.

For me, the exhibition and creative process, is a crucial step to moving into more rigorous and engaging forms of data visualisation. A ‘proof in the pudding’ moment that shows that it is possible to animate 2D social information into an interpretable form.

So this exhibition idea has been in the dream phase for a long time now, incubating through my long term shenanigans with Romaine Logere and Meredith Lewis. However, I’ve finally set a goal to have it up and running for a festival hosted at the Big Bang studios next year. So exciting times ahead. I’m happy to be getting creative and combining my sociological mind with some creative hackery and bringing this vision into form through its native model of collaboration, community and passion.


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