Visualization as Assemblage: How Modesty, Ethics, and Attachment Inform a Critical Design Practice
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Visualization is a form of design practice that deploys representational processes of enormous rhetorical and analytical power. What is often left out of the picture is the network of processes which it assembles and the non-visual effects it produces. This study asks how visualization can operate as a critical design practice that attends to the representational and performative processes it arranges. In order to contextualize this form of arrangement in design, the study undertakes a review of Bruno Latours interpretation of design as a form of modest restyling and arrangement. It also addresses this question through the use of a productive alignment between Latours development of actor-network theory and Deleuze and Guattaris assemblage theory which allows to both describe how things and processes mobilize knowledge and how human subjectivity emerges from human-nonhuman entanglements, respectively. The assemblage framework is applied to three case studies that offer distinct instances of critical visualization practices with each emphasizing a specific aspect. Liquid Traces (2014present), from Forensic Architecture (a research project based at Goldsmiths, University of London), is a project that condemns NATO forces for criminal negligence that led to the deaths of 63 refugees fleeing Libya by boat in 2011, and also reveals the ways a surface may assemble components and highlight its own form of construction. Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (2013present), from the San Francisco Tenants Union, advocates for housing justice by mobilizing maps, events, and site-specific installations, and illustrates how visualization is a process that exists beyond any one artifact. In The Air, Tonight (2013present), from the Public Visualization Studio, is my own research-creation project highlights the connection between housing and climate through an annual visualization event, and shows how design can operate through iteration, reworking, and connection to allied processes. What emerges from this study is an ethics of visualization that refocuses criticality on the potential of design to act modestly (Latour), to reveal its own construction, and to maintain the quality of attachments made.