I've got a rather scary commission coming up in four weeks time: to make a panorama of the Cook Inlet in Alaska, two and a half weeks to complete and show the work.
My basic idea is to do another paper based panorama, with a lot of quick studies of dynamic components in the landscape like wind, light, cloud, tide, moon, snow/rain etc. But, while I love the working qualities of paper, charcoal and paint, work on paper is static and the landscape never is. This time I'd really like to make a drawing that tries to describe the changes, the dynamic agents in the landscape itself.
I have no idea how we are going to achieve this which is why I'm lucky to be collaborating with someone who works in Anchorage. He has a science background, but we seem to have the trick of listening to each other carefully, so our differences of viewpoint don't seem to matter at all. His idea is that we make up a layered view across Fire Island which can eventually be web based and somehow related to live shots. One of his jobs was to develop ways of displaying complex underground geology that could only ever be measured indirectly. We both realised that these surfaces were just like a landscape drawing except I use eye/hand instead of a seismograph. His language is mathematics and mine definitely isn't. The only maths that ever made sense to me were pictures and patterns (tesselations, platonic solids, magic squares). Numbers have never had an abstract life for me and neither have words - I can only write this stuff if I believe I'm talking to somebody. My dear friend and collaborator can use mathematics as a speculative and descriptive tool that I can only understand by telling myself it's "like drawing". He'd call that that activity "visualising data".
So this commission will try to find out how much "like drawing" visualising data actually is. Time for some lists :
Drawing on paper : Good for simply and quickly recording subtle and emotional responses to the felt and the seen moment. Bad for accurate description of changes in observer and observed, unless you do an animation.
Numerical arrays (values for light direction and intensity, wind speed and direction ) THese columns of figures are good, as all lists are, for recording change, for accurately spotting trends and cyclical changes. They are bad for getting any complete picture unless you are trained to read numbers. Any list of numbers, however accurate, struggles to convey a sense of place or moment, which is very bad if you are trying to visualise a landscape.