"The Thick Black Line: Image and Objectivity in Roman Ondak's 'Measuring the Universe'" by Catherine Falls

 

"The Thick Black Line: Image and Objectivity in Roman Ondak's 'Measuring the Universe'" by Catherine Falls

“The Thick Black Line: Image and Objectivity in Roman Ondák's Measuring the Universe

Catherine MacArthur Falls

As discussed by historians of science Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, visual representations—including, for example, anatomical and botanical illustrations—have for centuries been integral to the production of scientific knowledge. Believed since the nineteenth century to be a more direct and 'objective' way to represent scientific phenomena than the potentially flawed realm of language, such visualizations, they suggest, have historically helped construct generalized 'objective truths' about the complex individual subjects they represent.1 In his 2007 participatory installation work, Measuring the Universe, Slovakian artist Roman Ondák critically and playfully engages with this longstanding relationship between art, statistical or scientific visualization, and human subjectivity. In a gesture mimicking both biological data collection and the quaint measurement of a child in the home, Ondák traced the heights of all exhibition visitors on the walls of the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich, repeating this action until a unified visualization—a thick black line at the average height of all visitors— emerged from the accumulated measurements. This 20-minute talk will explore how this and other similar contemporary works foreground or interrogate the often-obscured process by which idiosyncratic and infinitely complex subjectivities, and their intermediary data, are converted into clean, finalized visual representations of objective, authoritative scientific knowledge. It aims to demonstrate how, in a subversion of the historical relationship that artists have had to scientific knowledge production, such works reveal the process by which statistical and scientific visualizations construct not only truths about human subjects, but also human subjects themselves. It will argue that the exposure of this process and its role in subjectivity construction are increasingly necessary at a time characterized by a proliferation of infographics and other forms of often unquestioned data visualization.

 

Categories: 
  • Debating Visual Knowledge