editing disabled

Nick_Bus_M1.jpg Nick_Bus_Schedule.jpg
My trusty bus, and me, reflected in the schedule

The authoritative, final version of my project proposal. For this version, I set a somewhat arbitrary boundary of confining all the text to a single page - as might be done for an initial grant proposal. In placing this limitation, it gave me the freedom to play within the boundaries, and develop, what i think is a tighter, smarter, more engaging proposal. Working towards such concise limits, becomes for me like poetry or writing comic books, where economy of space makes me say the most with the least. The limit makes choosing every word essential - and thus every word left is essential. I think I got it, and said what i wanted to say better as a result.

Animation 2 (Trial 4) - Tuesday, December 15, 2009, 9:42am start time.

A revised and expanded version of the earlier proposal: Includes further trial data, observations, and the newly conceived Phase Two and Phase Three of the project. Note, Phase Two is the Boogie Woogie Version.


Semipermeable Membranes (The Bus Project):
Visualizing Racial Boundaries along a North-South Bus Route in New York City.
Nick Sousanis

What it is: A visual demographic study within the M1 bus traveling south from Harlem to Museum Mile. In Detroit, a wall was built separating the suburbs from the urban area, serving as a physical enforcement of the color lines drawn by such practices as redlining. Harlem may not have had a wall, but the line was drawn pretty firmly. While such overt practices may no longer exist, barriers still remain – of perhaps a more porous nature – akin to a semipermeable membrane (hence the title). By using low-tech animation techniques (flip book/quick time), this project seeks to make visual, perhaps visceral, these color membranes. We may know these membranes exist, but in “showing” it, it becomes part of our experience in a Dewey-an sort of away. I can see this simple visualization getting people to take notice of something right in front of their eyes with new eyes.

Data Collection Method: Observe who gets on and off, and where. This is perhaps like a moving census – pretty simple stuff, except for being on the move and a dynamic body to keep track of. After a few practice runs, settled on a fairly manageable system of tracking. May try more complicated mapping of exactly where they sit – but this may prove untenable. See my working notes for how this came about.
Besides trying to keep up with tracking everyone, it’s clear that my assignation of race is a problem. In addition to the sorts of errors in affixing labels on people, which I’m already uncomfortable with, the looking itself is prone with error. All that said, even accounting for such errors, I still think I can paint a broad picture of these changes in the composition of who the riders on the bus are along this route.

Some Theory: I see this as a form of “Art Practice as Research.” From Sullivan’s text of that title, “As a form of human expression, an artwork can be considered to be a site where knowledge is created and meanings are made” (71). Sullivan cites the Frascati Manual: “Research is described as creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge, including knowledge of humankind, culture and society, and the use of this stock of knowledge to devise new applications. (OECD, 2002, p. 30)” (74). I think of my way of working as “unflattening” or enabling new ways of seeing, and the data/animation can achieve that and is articulated well by thinking of art practice as research. Also from Sullivan on the subject of seeing, “This is a quest for knowledge and understanding, and in this creative pursuit no one holds copyright on ideas: where to find them, how to find them, or what to do with them. What is valued is human insight and how we might use it. Therefore, I argue that while we can agree that this is an important goal, we also need to agree that it can be achieved in different ways. For the visual artist, this means making art that has the capacity to transform us and thereby change the world around us” (88)

Presentation: as flip book/animation. Primary colored marks representing people on the bus. Intend for the piece to stand on its own as a visual without the actual explanation of what’s happening here. This can be easily distributed as a printed flipbook, or on the web as a quick time animation. Potential to make parallel visualizations of the data, as charts, dot plots. Also a qualitative study – my observations of conversations, events, images. More along these lines starts to develop as I make this journey. In this, it speaks to Graeme’s idea of the syllabus – we find the outcomes after we’ve done the work…

Trials: I’ve now done two trial runs. One, with mixed success, as I opted for the heavy coding system and ended up being overwhelmed by the mass of data and nauseous. For the second one, the one that I’ve now made the visual of, I went with the simpler tracking process, and was able to keep up, and got solid results. The animation is pretty powerful to me at least, and looking forward to developing the presentation aspect further.

Animation 1 (second trial), Saturday 11/14/09, 3:45pm, pouring rain, cold.

Some notes on my first animation - the images were done in layers in photoshop. I'd intended to print them separately and make a flipbook from it, but playing around, learned how to do an animation with my existing layers - luck that i happened to do it in such a way that worked with how you're supposed to do it. In many ways resembles old-school animation processes. Pretty cool. Intend to add frames to this sequence to give it space to breathe and unfold, and make use of these techniques as i map out another trip down 5th Avenue...

Bus Project - Draft Version
Nick Sousanis
(These are my working notes, outlining the idea, where it came from, how it evolved thus far, and what i've attempted.)

The concept in-brief: Map influx of demographics on M1 bus route down from Harlem to the Museum Mile.
Origins: This emerged out of my curiosity over observing dramatic shift on bus riders traveling south from my apartment towards the museums.
Potential Titles - Words: Time and Tides, Route, primary colors, patterns of migration, semipermeable membrane (also selectively-permeable membrane) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semipermeable_membrane
Update: After doing a test visual coding, semipermeable membrane has now become the leading title. The barrier is not a wall – but especially in the visualization has that look of cells flitting about, certain ones getting through, other ones heading off to some other destination in the body. Plus, as something seemingly nonreferential I think it carries its message in a less heavy-handed way than something else might. Though I’m open to it.
Method: Dual-coding, track who’s on, when they get on, when they get off, seats. Get on bus early, my apartment is near the beginning of the route. Some advantages to this – bus not so crowded, makes it not so difficult to get started. I’ve laid out a few mapping schemas. A simple head count at each stop – who’s on, off. Next I thought I could simply have a map of the bus for each stop and note who’s in what seat. Might be cool with tracing paper. Can think of these diagrams like football strategy boards – all full of x’s, o’s, and arrows representing where to move and hit someone.
Second level coding idea – bi-layered. Left side: map of bus, number of person in seat. Right Side: Chart for each person on and off – correspond to numbers in seats. This allows me to keep track of more information – potentially more easily. Simply (update: “simply” he said, before actually putting this theory in practice!) use the right side to note who comes on (or off) when, assign them a number and mark that on corresponding seats. Use commas in seat map to keep sequence of sitters intact.
Presentation: as flip book or animation. Primary colored dots/squares representing people on the bus. The piece can stand on its own just as a visual, moving representation – even without the actual explanation of what’s happening here.
Like the tactile quality of the flip book. Animation obviously allows more possibilities – say also shooting video or a series of stills along the route to contextualize environment with what’s going inside in our cellular system…
Representation: This offers quantitative measurements: keeping demographic data – could be mapped out as dot plot or histogram. Essential dot plotting is one of my strategies for keeping track of what’s happening (Update: though, histogram proves to be more doable in real life.) Besides the visual mapping, I can conceive of presenting this in parallel with more traditional charts/graphs, amping up the quantitative feel. Also including maps of the route, details on the bus itself. More possibilities will no doubt suggest themselves along the way…
This has qualitative potential in numerous ways. The graphic visualization of this changing tide of people through a semipermeable membrane, I think, speaks for itself. I’m also considering adding dialogue overheard (been taking notes on that as well) and other aspects encountered along the way. The video/photography aspect might come into play here as well. On one hand, the data I’m collecting is pretty obvious – we know how neighborhoods are segregated. However, in displaying it in this abstract visualization – thinking it might make one notice in a different way.
Update: Working through Heidegger and comparing that to Tim Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Tennis. There’s a big difference between “knowing” something in our heads and experiencing it, knowing it in a real, experiential, Deweyan sort of way. Show vs. tell. That’s what I think this can accomplish, and what in looking at the visualization of the first trial has done for me.
Potential Problems: My assignation of race. I’m not taking a survey, not asking how people self-identify. I’m just looking. And besides the sorts of errors in affixing labels on people (which I’m already uncomfortable with) the looking itself is prone with error. I will (update: and do) have trouble keeping up with people coming on and off. That said, I still think I can paint a broad picture of these changes in the composition of who the riders on the bus are along this route.
Trial #1: Performed on 11/11/09 – a Wednesday, got on bus at 11:49 at 138, bus 7 minutes behind schedule – I wait 12 minutes. En route to Maxine Greene’s for lunch near Guggenheim museum. Opted for dual-coding system – mapping on left page of notebook, charting on right. Initial stops, I’m doing well, keeping up, back and forth between mapping/charting – adding other details, kids, handicapped – potential alterations in visualizations. Reason for this second layers of details – for the presentation side, to see how people move in and out of bus, adds to liveliness of the flow of movement. This soon proves to be problematic – at least as I’ve set it up so far. After about 20 people total I’ve been keeping track of, I start to lose track of which person goes with which number – my seating chart is askew. The worst part of all of this is now I’m nauseous! I start shortening up my coding strategy – and maybe there’s enough to at least fill in some blanks and make an estimation of what the map roughly looks like. Finally, at Maxine’s I hop off the bus, relieved.
Have yet to attempt to visualize this data as yet. Perhaps not so eager to get sick again…
Trial #2: 11/14/09, a Saturday around 3:45. This trial is unplanned. I’m running to meet Leah at Neu Gallerie across from the Met. It’s raining, and of course, I forgot my umbrella – but not my notebook! I hop on at 135th and decide to start with the initial, simplified tracking method. Proves to be much simpler, aided by the fact that the bus is never as crowded as my first attempt. And the results are pretty sharp. When I get on, the bus is totally comprised of African American people and me, and by 98th, there are none. Other Caucasians are getting on starting at 106 and by 96th, the numbers of AA and C have completely flip-flopped. It’s a dramatic change, and the visual (see flip pages) captures that powerfully in my view.
Having done this visualized trial – am thinking to flesh the animation out a bit (it’s only 15 stills) by devoting several repeat (though maybe slightly off) stills, and then perhaps a few stills at the top showing people leaving seats. This might further enhance the cellular abstraction of the project – have a little more movement along the way. Plus 15 flips is too short!