Diane Maclean essay

Mapping Data

The measurement and mapping of our physical world is one of the greatest scientific quests that we have ever embarked upon. To measure, and to categorise in the scientific tradition is to comprehend and assimilate the world. This quest has largely been an imperial one, survey teams set out to capture nature, to possess it through the knowledge of its physical attributes. The Great Trigonometrical Survey of India carried out by the Royal Geographic Society experienced its finest achievement, when in 1856 George Everest determined the height of the Himalayas, providing proof of the highest point on earth, and giving it a name.
In industrialised societies, much of the physical data we collect has specific, predictive uses. Meteorological information helps to plan shipping movements, the flight paths of aircraft, crop planting, and food production. The data is harnessed and put to work in the rationalisation of our environment.

Data Mapping, the interpretation of statistical information from disparate sources, facilitates even greater control of the physical world. At the outbreak of World War II, Ordnance Survey maps provided the British military with information which when combined with ballistic tables returned accurate data for the Royal Artillery, Air Force, and Navy. It was now possible to predict, with even greater accuracy, where their bombs would fall.
Computerisation has enabled us to create extremely sophisticated mapping systems. Global information Systems (GIS) are used to map census and demographic information against geographical information such as city plans and street maps, as well as postcodes and other data, to provide detailed statistical analysis of our towns, cities, and the sociological makeup of our society.

The worlds revealed to us by GIS systems are not easy to describe physically and are more likely to exist virtually. We are at a period in history where we are literally constructing the landscape of data-space, an 'Information Architecture'.

Modern computer technology has enabled the construction of a space that is digital, consisting purely of information. While it has no physicality it does have a tangible existence which affects our everyday lives. We are provided with a means of communicating, through mobile telephony and computer networks. It can be used to inform our credit ratings, or to control our access to key services. We are constructing a space out of the raw material of digital information.

The mapping of this space provides both its structure and its ease of use, in order to navigate its architecture we need to create maps in the labyrinth to record our passage, linking spaces which are physically and culturally isolated. We are now able to construct virtual worlds from digital information.

Data Mapping allows for the superimposition of different types of information to create a more sophisticated whole. The possibility arises to experience the world in different ways contemporaneously. We are able to combine scientific knowledge with aesthetic awareness to reveal a post Cartesian understanding of the world. In Diane Maclean’s work, perception and physicality are combined, aesthetics and scientific data are connected, to provide us with a holistic understanding of these natural phenomena.