If you have been reading this blog, you might think we have disappeared because so little has been updated (don’t forget to use the menu on the upper right to change years, though…). The opposite is true however – we have had our busiest time ever! As I write, our documentary film is being finalized, our new students are hard at work with Dr. Claudia Sheedy, and we are deeply involved in her research concerning pesticide monitoring in southern Alberta waterways. I will endeavour to get some updates to the site soon. Until then, you can always check our Instagram account: datavizexperiments.
This fabric work represents the gene expression for Ta_ChSp_TFL1 (Chinese Spring Wheat). This work explores a combination of my experience at the Agricultural Research Centre with an exploration in understanding Jamie Larsen’s data set. By enlarging and simplifying the 522 character long gene expression I seek to make the data tangible to the viewer by inviting exploration through touch. Each pocket will be stuffed with a set weight of cracked wheat to represent the A,T,G, or C in the sequence.
My first work determined itself to be based exclusively on my first response. It is my way of activating my own investigation towards taking in entirely new scenery. My initial reaction to the tour and the lectures at the Lethbridge Research Station was: How am I going to cross over to all of this new information when it is not in a language that I can easily understand? I began to consider ways in which this cross over becomes manifested. To me, the answer that arrived was about a personal limited understanding but couldn’t it be simultaneously about unlimited possibilities? How might those two notions arrive at the same place and at the same time? I decided that I would set myself parameters and create a work that I hoped reflected processes that showed limits. I limited myself to one material that also has limited abilities of use. I limited the supports used and I chose limited steps through which to take the material through. These limited processes that I had taken the material through, at the end, were placed in an eclectic installation. The installation was very important to this piece. I wanted to evoke a sense that there is still so much possibility that is, even within limitations.
For my piece I have decided to explore the effect of stripe rust on different wheats. My initial form is stretched and twisted in relation to the resistance and susceptibility of stripe rust genes on wheat. While my initial studies are in wood, I would like to progress into either metal or acrylic/glass.
My first project represents the activity of the VRN1 gene in different zadock stages of perennial plants. The circles that form at the beginning of the animation represent the different zadock stages from the data I chose (Z22,Z39,Z47, and Z65). As the animation continues stalks of wheat grow out and represents the growth of wheat for each zadock stage chosen. At the end of the wheats growth it will sprout out a coloured semi circle to show the activity of the VRN1 gene at that stage of the plants growth.
Inspired by late 20th century video game pixel graphics, I looked to work with a pseudo three-dimensional isometric art style, similar to the graphics seen in Chris Sawyer’s Roller Coaster Tycoon (1999). In addition, I felt that the emphasis on building, construction, and micromanagement in the game tied in well with the goals of the research data. I began with a simple bar graph mapping the presence of the tested gene in a particular part of the plant at different life stages. I then adapted that graph to the isometric style and experimented with the result, considering the potential problems with each iteration. Although still in the experimental stage, the “diorama” appears to be the most successful, and will likely be the biggest influence on the direction of the final project.
It’s official! Our VISUALIZING AGRICULTURE project has launched, with an exciting roster of scientists and artists coming together for a chilly weekend in September. Dr. Andre Laroche and Dr. Jamie Larsen generously spent the day explaining their research into Wheat Stripe Rust and Perennial Wheat – artists include Adrien Segal (Los Angeles), Tori Foster (Oakland), Mary-Anne McTrow (Lethbridge), Jackson 2Bears (Lethbridge), Robyn Moody (Calgary). A rotten computer glitch stopped Patricio Davila coming from Toronto, but we will soon fix that. We were also joined by 7 of our Data Studio students, who have already started their first artworks.
I’m also thrilled to be announcing plans for a major exhibition of data art! We will be working with the Southern Alberta Art Gallery to develop an exhibition with some truly stellar artists. The SAAG is known for fostering work with contemporary artists who challenge boundaries and we are very pleased that they embraced this idea wholeheartedly. We have recently met with scientists at the Agricultural Research Centre, and while I can’t confirm the data we’ll be working with just yet, I can guarantee it will be aligned with our mandate of working with data that inspires a more positive, sustainable future. Stay tuned for the list of artists that we will be working with – it is such an exciting time in the Lab!
Competition surrounds us. It is the driving force of the capitalist economy, it is often fuel for nationalistic, civic and institutional pride, and, from a Darwinian perspective, it is the reason for the existence of all living organisms. For Jamie Larsen, Crop Geneticist and Breeder with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, competition takes the form of expedited evolution through the selection and controlled breeding of wheat, rye, and triticale plants. In the case of his Fall Rye Co-operative study, when a particular fall rye variety performs well, such as high winter survival rates, high grain yields, and low amounts of ergot (a fungus toxic to humans), its seeds move forward to be used in the next year’s crop, which can then be bred with other top performers. By controlling the pollination of each crop of fall rye, Larsen is able to foster the development of a rye variety with increasingly ideal qualities over time. Competition at its finest!
Following this breeding process (which can take up to 12 years) the seed selection culminates most dramatically at the yearly Prairie Recommendation Committee meetings. Here, Larsen and his colleagues present the agronomic and grain quality data of their most promising seeds for evaluation, the goal being to have them ‘supported’ for registration with Canadian Food Inspection Agency, who gives the final approval for them to enter the marketplace. In the past, seeds would be supported or rejected based on a majority vote, but these days decisions are informed largely by the Agronomic Evaluation Team’s “Merit Assessment Tool” which scores each variety according to how a seed’s data measures up against other control varieties.
Once on the market, a fall rye variety will face a new set of competitive challenges from its new audience – the farmers of the Canadian Prairies. Even the most impressive seeds on paper must overcome the critical eye of the seasoned farmer and have enough appeal to inspire him or her to take a chance on the unfamiliar crop. Often, it is also a matter of convincing farmers of the merits of winter cropsor planting rye in general.
So, where does data visualization connect with the tumultuous world of competitive crop breeding? For myself, the Data Artist-in-Residence at the Disruptive Imaginings Data Visualization Lab at the University of Lethbridge, the connection materialized through a visual form familiar to modern sports enthusiasts – the bracket tournament.
Bracket tournaments are a pervasive type of competition in professional and league sports where all the winners of a set round of games move forward to the next round, and so on until the best team prevails through all rounds. During my research of bracket tournaments, I found a few delightful cross-overs with agriculture, most notably the reference to “planting” the “seeds,” which refers to the process of arranging the players/teams in the first set of brackets so that the strongest competitors do not meet until later in the tournament (1)(2). The practice of predicting the outcomes of bracket tournaments, known as bracketology, has become a sport in itself, taking over many offices and friendship networks during NCAA March Madness or NFL Fantasy Football. Since their domination of the sporting world, bracket tournaments have also become popular in many other domains, like movies, music, books, public radio, and now… fall rye!
The Fall Rye Leaguedata visualization will be shown on April 20th at 2PM at the University of Lethbridge. Incorporating interactive paint, a micro-controller, and lights, the multimedia project presents the statistical champion of Jamie Larsen’s Fall Rye 2013 – 2014 Cooperative study through a touchable cork interface. Location TBA.
The amazing people at the Aviz.fr research lab have started a physical data viz wiki, and it is going to be enormously valuable to us. We have been using their list of physical data viz extensively ever since we started our lab, and that list was what led Denton and I to visit Paris in March to meet the team. Take a look here – and check back often to see who else has been added.