"Smog poem". Example of data dramatization

Piotr Marecki (piotr.marecki@ha.art.pl), Jagiellonian University, Poland and Leszek Onak (leszek.onak@gmail.com), Jagiellonian University, Poland

Smog poem (example of data dramatization)

The proposed poster is a visual presentation of the literary experiment “Smog Poem” (2018) by a Polish poet Leszek Onak developed in the UBU lab at the Jagiellonian University run by dr Piotr Marecki. Drawing on the terminology of expressive processing developed by Noah Wardrip-Fruin, and platform studies by Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost the authors of the poster present the process of the creation of the work.

According to World Health Organization ambient particle pollution kills about 6.5 million people annually affecting all regions of the world. In Poland, it amounts to nearly 50 thousand deaths each year. Krakow, the former capitol of Poland, is ranked third among the European cities with the highest levels of particulate matter (PM 10).

“Smog Poem” is a text and graphics generator that uses the data on the environmental pollution to change the tissue of the text, its graphic elements, and other components depending on the pollution’s intensity. The algorhythm has a form of an internet browser plugin; after its installation, the users browsing through the internet will experience the air pollution in front of their own eyes through the glitches appearing on the websites they use, the replacement of the photos and text modification. Some articles will be replaced by a separate generated text based on the syntactic mechanisms and by using the rules of the “Game of Life” by John Conway.

The piece consists of two main engines. One mechanism is pulling data on the actual air pollution with Particulate Matter (PM 10 and PM 2.5), Nitrogen Dioxine NO2, Sulfur Dioxide SO2 and Carbon Monoxide CO. Each of those indicators is responsible for a different element distorting the content. The second mechanism is responsible for the upload of data from the websites and its modification depending on the particle pollution. If the air quality does not exceed the norms, the content of websites remains unchanged.

The algorhythm is representative of the growing trend of digital art based on resources and presenting them in a way to influence the user’s consciousness. It refers to the concept of ‘data dramatization’ by Liam Young, who once said: ‘Data Dramatization, as opposed to data visualization presents a data set with not only legibility or clarity but in such a way as to provoke an empathetic or emotive response in its audience.’

„Smog poem” is one of the of the digital works developed in the UBU lab at the Jagiellonian University. The lab primarily produces digital works that can function in a few fields of the demoscene, electronic literature, video games and media art. The research conducted in the lab focuses on, among other things, local phenomena in the digital media field, e.g. strategies for cloning platforms in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as the digital genres and their specific features in Central and Eastern Europe. The artists, programmers and scholars affiliated with the lab develop new genres and communication practices (technical reports, open notebook science) to describe the creative process in its widest definition in the era of digital textuality. The project has been made possible through the support of the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education "National Programme for the Development of Humanities".