Review

Turning Data Around – OCR Journal #002

“It’s a world in which we are being data-fied from a distance, our movements and conversations processed into product recommendations and sociology papers and watch lists.” Jer Thorp is uniquely qualified to characterize how data has permeated everyday life and his observations set the stage for OCR Journal #002. With their first edition the Brooklyn-based Office for Creative Research mused over how data was more of a verb than a noun; OCR’s sophomore edition teases out the ethical, sociopolitical, and quotidian implications of using data to ‘read’ culture. These ambitious and distinctly qualitative aspirations ripple through the journal’s 224 pages, and in aggregate its thirteen short texts read like a catalogue of the questions each of the designers is wrestling with in their practice. Yes, there are discussions about several of the studio’s projects but these glimpses of work-in-progress feel more like a film director’s DVD commentary than navel gazing process evangelism. Genevive Hoffman’s “The Calls Left Unanswered” chronicles some of the thinking behind the forthcoming visualization Flint is a Place, and beyond mounting a pointed critique of crime visualization she also ruminates on the sociopolitics of underserviced cities and citizen initiated responses to those circumstances. This is where Journal #002 shines – in grounding data through lived experience.

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↑ More sketchbook or diary than monograph, Journal #002 is full of mockups and snapshots documenting OCR’s experiments and experiences

From Kate Rath’s reflection on her young son’s privacy in an age of oversharing, to Ian Ardoin-Fumat’s meditation on Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation and the failure of modernist design, to A’yen Tran’s consideration of how a few ethnomusicologists shaped our understanding of Appalachian music – each text is unique in its focus. Common threads emerge and tie everything together: parenthood, ethics, and notions of citizenship and community in the city loom large. And if that sounds overly virtuous there are some icy analytical pieces to provide counterpoint; Noa Youse incisively heralds the ascent of AI and Sarah Groff Hennigh-Palermo contributes some of the sharpest commentary on cybernetics since N. Katherine Hayles’ How We Became Posthuman. Beyond its polemics Journal #002 is brimming with great graphics and visualization, some abstract and some functional; leafing through its pages you’ll find splashy full-bleed virus studies, diet diagrams, online ad similarity plots, subway isometrics, and photographs of the Okavango Delta in Botwswana — and each of copy has a unique computationally designed cover.

In Thorp’s intro he notes “we need to expand our criticality to include the possible social impacts of ‘well-made’ visualizations.” This call to action resonates throughout the journal, and OCR’s chorus of voices move well beyond instrumental relationships with data and instead embrace much more vital, nuanced, and humanistic approaches.

OCR Journal #002 is 224 pages, perfect bound, and a handy 13 x 18 cm and is priced at $35 USD; a thousand copies are being printed (in a carbon neutral run, no less) and orders begin shipping next week.

Order OCR Journal #002 | OCR

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A writer and editor based in Toronto, Greg is interested in media art and its broader cultural implications. Beyond contributing to CAN, he is the Editor-in-Chief of HOLO and serves on the Board of Directors at InterAccess.