Uninformational Mapping & Video: Artist’s Note

Minkee Bae

Take images that were distorted, effectively, for some goal — and correct them, ineffectively, for no goal whatsoever.

The planning meeting for Uninformation Mapping & Video was attended by three people: Seoul Libre Maps curators E Roon Kang and Wonyoung So, as well as Minkee Bae who was invited as facilitator. Since the curators were respectively in New York and Singapore, the meeting was held using a Hangouts video call. The three of us agreed on preliminary objectives of the workshop, including the use of the openly available map service OpenStreetMap (OSM) and the contribution to the service’s data collection.

These objectives served as the rationale for a workshop process in which participants go through online map services, whether directly or indirectly. References and inspirations from this early stage include Design Fantasia (2012) by Dozin Lee, a map of Seoul reconstructed from elements such as bird’s-eye views produced during former mayor Se-hoon Oh’s term; Indexing (2010) by Taehee Woo and Dokho Shin, a virtual map of Seoul created by reorganizing all bridges over Hangang alphabetically, based on width, etc.; and Postcards from Google Earth (2011) by Clement Valla, a collection of mapping glitches in Google’s 3D map.

The biggest inspiration came from Seoul Mapping (2016) by Zamsil Park, which was the final project for Design Art II — a course held at Ewha Womans University in Fall 2016 — created and submitted after critique by instructor Minkee Bae. Park’s work was an image created by taking different maps on the web, arguably referable to as poor maps, and combining them so that they match Seoul’s actual geographic information. Upon hearing the initial project proposal, Bae suggested applying more technology-oriented methods to the image-combining process or to the final rendering; alternatively, the scope of the end product could be expanded into a 3D map instead of 2D. However, one semester was a short time to master the required skills, hence the submitted project consisted of the map itself and a fabric shoulder bag derived from the map. The unrealized idea came to materialization through the technical support of the curators, becoming the Uninformation workshop and the resulting video piece.

Seoul Mapping (2016) by Zamsil Park. Image courtesy of the artist.

An Oblique Informational Design

Additionally, Bae’s longtime question as a designer acts as a hidden conceptual layer in the process and title of Uninformation Mapping & Video. The question is how to renew information design as a discourse within the current state of graphic design.

A chronological narrative — which goes at least as far back as the wood-made Micronesian navigational chart from the Marshall Islands — might give the misleading impression that techniques of communicating visual information, in their narrow sense, have been discussed to a constant degree throughout the history of civilization. However, the information design that we recognize as part of the contemporary visual cultural trend only gained popularity in the mid-90s, after being hyped by people like Richard Saul Wurman. Such a trend, after undergoing multiple stages, has resulted in the self-proclaimed information design works that are basically illustrations with numbers on them or designer portfolios covered with complex lines to the point of illegibility, nowadays polluting the Anglophone media. A 2013 article on the Business Insider reads: “Infographics are what happens when you take the worst of PowerPoint and the worst of Excel and throw it into Photoshop.” This perhaps adequately and indirectly points to the odd precipice faced by today’s information design works. Sure, it is still important to learn the ability to organize fragmentary data from a specific perspective and giving meaning to them, in order to convert them into visual information. But the discursive effectiveness of the specific term encapsulating this activity might have expired.

A potential and bizarre breakthrough for such the renewal of information design was found in Uninformation Design by Chae Lee, which was part of the On Posters thematic exhibition within Poster Issue 2016, hosted by GRAPHIC in November 2016. This work visualizes data from 25 posters collected in a specific place, into the form of graphs — but it does not convey any particular information at all. This approach, which makes use of the form of information design while deliberately not communicating information in a clear way, provided an opportunity to update existing educational methods in an oblique manner. Accordingly, during Information Design II taught by Bae at Seoul Women’s University in Fall 2016, some projects aimed at conforming to the formal norms of information design, all the while delivering information in a flawed manner. These included a representation of something that represents nothing that involved deliberate choices of visualization logics that do not match the properties of the data, as well as a photographic work that imitates graphs — collecting specific graphs, then documenting photos of landscapes that resemble the graphs. The “‘un-informational design activity,’ aimed at the delivery of obscured information for its laid-back consumption” as written in the workshop description is an extension of such a distorted approach.

Poor Maps and Un-informational Perversity

Despite their poorness, all these poor images distort actual geographic information efficiently and practically according to their own agenda and definition of usefulness — and they often achieve their goals. Poor maps tend to omit unimportant streets or simplify intersections with subtle and different angles into plain regular polygons. The creators of these maps might not have received a visual design education; nevertheless, in their own way, they capture the idea of effective distortion à la Harry Beck, who in the 1930s distorted geography in his visualization of the relationship among many stations of the London Underground Tube.

And this is where our un-informational perversity comes in. Take images that were distorted, effectively, for some goal — and correct them, ineffectively, for no goal whatsoever. Participants mapped a diverse set of images, a combination of pre-collected images and additional ones collected by themselves, onto a single screen-based map using OpenStreetMap. Key points in the images were mapped to their actual geographic location. In order words, the distorted images were corrected via yet another distortion.

Uninformation Mapping & Video

The workshop was held on June 24–25, 2017. The orientation on the 24th included a project introduction and skill-share for the workshops; the actual mapping was done the following day through the participants’ contribution, using QGIS with the Georeferencer and OpenLayers plugins. More than 200 images were created and positioned on a map of Seoul, thanks to the diligent work of 16 participants: Jiwoo Kang, Nahae Kim, Sunjae Kim, Sumoothie Kim, Jinah Min, Sooyeon Park, Yeonzean Park, Zamsil Park, Jaehee Park, Sang’hyeon Bae, Yehwan Song, Hwajeong Shin, Jongbae Lee, Jihye Lee, Yoonjung Jang, and Hayeon Pyo. Participants freely generated images then uploaded those images on a separate website. A list of uploaded images was edited in real time on the large screen in the front, in order to allow an overview of the many images. Once edited, the images were merged into one large image, divided into tiles, saved on a server, and pushed onto the map on the screen. All technical setup and maintenance were managed by curator Wonyoung So, with the exception of list editing.

After the workshop, about 70 more images were added; the images were then projected using Unity on a map of Seoul that reflects terrain and building data. Unity-related technical support was provided by new media startup Vittgen’s Sang’hyeon Bae (who also participated in the workshop), Juno Hwang and Nahyeon Park.

The end product is, as the workshop title indicates, in video format. It involved multiple screen-based technologies including mapping software, a website that allows multiple simultaneous uploads, tiling algorithms, the building of a tiling server, and realtime mapping of tiled image fragments. Then perhaps it might have been natural to opt for an interactive new media format. However, after applying a diligent perversity on that naturalness, and as a result of efforts to shake off the tiresome novelty of touching, reacting, enjoying and forward-looking, I decided that video seemed most adequate. More than anything, video is a medium that one can stare at without any awkward interaction. Hopefully, many people will stare at this video projected on a wall in DDP, inactively and with an un-informational expression. Thank you.

Minkee Bae graduated from Department of Design, Seoul National University in 2008 and earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from the same university in 2011 and 2015 respectively. From 2011 to 2016, he worked as an editor of the magazine DOMINO and participated as an early member of the collective Optical Race. His design practice is relatively equally distributed between teaching — at the University of Seoul, Ewha Women’s University, Seoul Women’s University and Kookmin University — and the collaboration with publishers, architects, and fashion companies. He participated in the solo exhibition Put Up & Remove (2016, Platform Place) and the group exhibition XS: Young Studio Collection (2015, Ujeongguk).

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