Interrogating the real in “real world” data is an aesthetic inquiry. Taking up that idea, at least as a possibility, when reading Sianne Ngai’s text allowed for identifying the aesthetic category of my thesis. Real world data might be aesthetically interesting.
Ngai defines the interesting as concerned with circulation, realism, documentation, coolness, systems of transmitting information, and obsession. It is a feeling-based judgement “explicitly pedagogical as well as performative.” By being interesting, data is circulated, hoarded, and increases exchange value. By being real it is almost boring, almost normal, and almost information.
Conceptual and serial art are exemplars of the interesting aesthetic. More so than a style or ideology, they are concerned with the pathways for disseminating and exchanging information. Ngai calls this “an attempt to make the process of circulation visible by tracking the movement of information and bodies through systems of transportation and communication (for example, highways, the postal system, and telex lines).” My thesis is invested in this tracing of bodies and data through digitized systems of care.
Data visualization explicitly intends to make systems visible. On an unexamined level I have an aversion to data visualization as manipulative, of wanting to be beautifully illegible – to amaze with complexity or oversimplify. I assert that visualization is not enough in and of itself. Maybe that’s only because, as Ngai describes the interesting, it “prefers the representation of networks and systems over that of human beings.”
Another way of thinking about the circulation of bodies and information is offered by Artist Carolyn Lazar’s series Infusions. Her series of inverted selfies combine sickness and study, distributed through social media. The work adheres to the indexing, discursive and media-driven attributes of the interesting. As Ngai writes,”it is the interesting, surprisingly, that most directly addresses the question of how one links aesthetic judgements to political ones in the first place.” I am interested in how her work assumes a community and bridges self and collective care.