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Friday, June 9 • 9:30am - 11:00am
My body is a data visceralization: Exploring environmental data through embodied performance

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This interactive workshop aims to surface new practices for using the body as a way of understanding environmental data by focusing on representing data with the body—through voice, gesture, walking, or movement. This workshop is for anyone who is curious about doing fun and strange things with data: analysts, designers, artists, and researchers who work with data are all welcome, and data newcomers are especially encouraged to join. Through a series of activities that engage all of the senses to explore and represent data through embodiment and performance, participants will come away from this bodies-on, activity-based workshop with new ideas and techniques for moving beyond traditional data communication strategies. In these activities, we will use data sets that relate to the conference theme of sustainability and environmental justice and that encourage people to reflect on how their individual bodies and actions are connected to larger sociotechnical systems: for example, data about the environmental impacts of food, travel, and digital technology. We propose a remote, 90-minute workshop, which allows us to also explore how embodied activities can help establish presence among remote, distributed data and creative teams.

Analyzing and consuming data does not need to be restricted to numbers, tables, and charts—data can be experienced by senses other than sight. Engaging sensory modalities such as sound and touch can help break down barriers between data ‘beginners’ and data ‘experts’: Sensory data explorations tap into the expertise beginners have as long-term residents of their own bodily-sensory worlds; they also turn experts back into beginners, encouraging them to view data through fresh, bodily-sensory lenses. By embracing embodied ways of interacting with data, we strive to make data more approachable, leveraging the concept of “creative data literacy” [1] as well as the data feminist technique of data visceralization [2].

Maxene Graze is a data designer who is fascinated by representing data through senses other than sight. Jordan Wirfs-Brock is an assistant professor at Whitman College whose research focuses on how we can use data and sounds as creative materials to expand the kinds of interactions we can have with data. Together, we have collaborated to develop design practices centered on understanding data through multisensory experiences—using sight, smell, touch, taste, and even smell to create sensory data representations. This workshop builds off of previous participatory activities we have facilitated, such as the AQI Human Synthesizer [3], a participatory event where we conducted a live data chorus, and Sketching Across the Senses [4], a workshop at CHI2022 where we created activities for sensory translation as a data sketching practice. Whereas these past activities have focused on surfacing metaphors and new data representations, the workshop we are proposing for HASTAC 2023 has a goal of elevating the body as a way of knowing and understanding environmental data. While we can physically feel the impacts of environmental change, whether that be the air quality we breathe in, or worsening heat and drought, the numbers and charts that represent these changes are rather sterile. By employing a somatic method to understand data, leveraging on the knowledge we can gain from our bodies, we hope to inject empathy and a deeper understanding into this critical data.

Workshop Activities
As this workshop emphasizes the diverse perspectives that we can all bring to understanding data by celebrating the unique, situated perspectives we have in our own bodies, the activities will be designed to be inclusive of all bodies and abilities.

The workshop will start with a group icebreaker activity aimed at getting participants comfortable with expressing data as well as aspects of their identity through multisensory and bodily expression. Next, participants will all engage with a dataset, on their own, through a series of activities where we invite them to express the data through different parts of their bodies—for example, using their voices, gestures, or movements through space to represent different aspects of the data. We will then split participants into small groups, where they will spend time brainstorming new activities that others can do to explore data with their bodies. Then, the groups will exchange their new activities and perform them, providing feedback and refining the activities before documenting them. We will close the workshop with a discussion about how we can continue these kinds of embodied data practices in our own work beyond HASTAC.

Anticipated Outcomes
Our hope is that participants will come away with an intuitive, physical understanding or “sense” of the data by directly embodying the data during our workshop. While having fun, they will also come away with: techniques for using the body to explore data; new connections to a community of like-minded people excited about doing strange things with data; and activities and practices that they can apply in their own data work to break out of their normal day-to-day learned data practices.

[1] D'Ignazio, C. (2017). Creative data literacy: Bridging the gap between the data-haves and data-have nots. Information Design Journal, 23(1), 6-18.
[2] D'ignazio, C., & Klein, L. F. (2020). Data Feminism. MIT press.
[3] Graze, M., & Wirfs-Brock, J. (October 20, 2022). Human Synthesizer: Reinforcing data with our bodies. Data the Senses. https://buttondown.email/datathesenses/archive/human-synthesizer-reinforcing-data-with-our-bodies/
[4] Wirfs-Brock, J., Graze, M., Devendorf, L., Desjardins, A., Goudarzi, V., Friske, M., & Keegan, B. C. (2022, April). Sketching Across the Senses: Exploring Sensory Translation as a Generative Practice for Designing Data Representations. In CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems Extended Abstracts (pp. 1-7). https://sensorysketching.com/


Friday June 9, 2023 9:30am - 11:00am EDT
Steuben 410 (Design Center)