Information visualizations (or “infovis”) have become a ubiquitous cultural form in the digital age. Environmental artists and activists increasingly trust in the ability of infovis to produce knowledge about environmental issues and to promote audience engagement. But does infovis elicit more than shock, admiration, and the pleasures of “infogasm”? Analyzing infovis through its aesthetic features, this essay raises the question of how the aesthetic form of any environmental artwork carries audiences from perception to involvement, arguably one of environmental criticism’s most formidable concerns. The essay examines two visualization projects, Aaron Koblin’s Flight Patterns and WWF’s The Timber Trade, focusing on their use of the aerial perspective and the line. These features speak at once to an uneasy globalism and to values of simplicity, instantaneity, and transparency. Ultimately, the essay argues that infovis can offer a misplaced sense of mastery and sidestep the challenges of uncertainty and misinformation.
The Aesthetics of Environmental Visualizations: More Than Information Ecstasy?
Heather Houser is an assistant professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin. Her first book is Ecosickness in Contemporary US Fiction: Environment and Affect (2014). Her publications include essays in American Literature (2012), Contemporary Literature (2010), American Book Review (2010), and the collection The Legacy of David Foster Wallace (2012).
Heather Houser; The Aesthetics of Environmental Visualizations: More Than Information Ecstasy?. Public Culture 1 May 2014; 26 (2 (73)): 319–337. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/08992363-2392084
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