Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Response, Week 1: Suspicious Images, Latent Interfaces

Natalie Jeremijenko and Benjamin Brittan’s pamphlet “Suspicious Images, Latent Interfaces” introduces a critique of what can often prove a critique-less form of information gathering and distribution, including the current InfoViz craze. Both understand that data is never neutral, indicating both a bias of the source and its purveyor. They demand a criticality that assigns agency to all relevant parties, as well as a recognition of the political possibilities of the project. As Jeremijenko sketches some of her own hyper-critical and political projects, both she and Brittan challenge existing modes of representation through “computational media” (Brittan’s phrase) and attempt to delineate a practice that uses these tools to engage in an experimental political practice.

One of the greatest strengths of this conversation is the conviction of both the participants; this, of course, is backed by both Jeremijenko and Brittan’s practices, interventions into some of the greatest monoliths in modern society - for example, Jeremijenko’s The Environmental Health Clinic challenges deep-seeded beliefs embedded in the medicalization of society, where the environmental causes of “disease” are often ignored as the assumption indicates the functioning of the body as internalized and individual.

An unfortunate example of this, outside of the text, can be found in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago’s near southwest side. The Sun-Times ran an article this summer that indicated that this neighborhood has levels of lead that are 10 times the EPA safety regulations. According to relevant medical literature, lead poisoning is often a cause for concern amongst children of low-income families, as childhood learning disabilities and longterm health concerns often go unnoticed. In conjunction with soil concerns, the Fisk Coal Plant is responsible for making Pilsen one of the worst neighborhoods in terms of air quality, and has long been connected with the sharp rise in childhood asthma in that area.

The real test, it seems, is to turn the idea of what constitutes “truth” or “authority” upside-down, and to re-present the data in a way that turns a critical eye toward the producer and consumer. In addition, there exists a challenge to the viewer - there is a distinct provocation, or at least an opportunity, to act. For example, the Yes Men cultivated a hoax protest against a coal plant being built in a wealthy neighborhood:

This protest highlights their occupation of the Fisk Coal Plant entrance, where they resurrected their “SurvivalBalls” project about a year and half ago:

The Sun-Times article about lead levels:

The Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (P.E.R.R.O.) has launched their own website with information about the negative effects of the Fisk Generating Station:

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