The internet can be frustrating. With millions of links, you never know what stories are true. To be sure, you have to check several sources, follow leads and cobble together information. Even then, you can’t be certain you have the real story...
Often, a crumb of truth is obscured with many layers of imagination. It takes time to get clarity, but this time dulls interest and emotion. But jumping from story to story seems to have become the norm. Something funny here, something serious there. We read an article for up to half an hour and tweet just 140 characters. Photos, movies, animated GIFs scroll by. These media snippets are our constant companions.
Getting the whole picture takes time and focus and is not served by our informative shuffling. With this new pace of media consumption, long stories have no chance. So what then? Collages, maps and images show more than they tell, which is why they resonate. Lev Manovich, a new media researcher and creator of cultural analytics, suggests it is worth looking at visualisations of large amounts of data to learn about the world. The following projects from Poland and abroad offer new perspectives on the world – bringing together stories, pictures and data in innovative ways that invite us to stop and appreciate the diversity of our experience.
Though not directly connected to Poland, On Broadway is a visually rich example of the potential of images and data to offer new insights into city life. The project by Lev Manovich, Daniel Goddemeyer, Moritz Stefaner and Dominkus Baur presents life in New York by compiling photos and data collected from thousands of people via Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare, Google Streetview and the census. Broadway runs like a spine through the city, crossing Wall Street, Greenwich Village and Harlem. Originally installed on a touch screen in the New York Public Library, today On Broadway has its own website. Instead of a map, it shows narrow slices of photos as stripes, so you can look at everything at once. When you click on an individual strip, the picture pops up in its entirety and offers a glimpse into life in the city. Taken together we see colours dominate the photos of Broadway on Instagram. Individual photos show the sky from the perspective of the street. One can image the potential for a similar project to capture the vibrancy of Warsaw or the ever-changing face of Łódź.
Lev Manovich explains:
As a visual artist, I want to create works of art that represent the public, using elements – messages, pictures – co-produced by thousands, millions of people.
Paweł Mościcki’s Refugee Atlas is a collection of twenty boards with historical and contemporary paintings, presented alongside films, sounds and quotations about human migration. Adam and Eve banished from the Garden of Eden. Maps showing the expansion of the Roman Empire. People fleeing Vietnam waiting on a boat to be rescued by an American military ship. Syrian refugees praying on the shores of Lesbos. These images do not answer questions about refugees, yet they do clearly show that people have always moved. While the site is not very effective formally, it is worth spending time with it on its own terms.
Of the project, Paweł Mościcki says:
Montage is an anthropological need, a way of dealing with suffering.
First We Feel Then We Fall
This collage of short films by Jakub Wróblewski was inspired by James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. It’s basically a translation of the book – filled with historical, social, biblical and mythological references – into an audio-visual language. Thirty-two pages turned into thirty-two films. Viewing can begin anywhere and using the up and down arrows allows viewers to change the video track – every film has at least two. On the journey through images and sounds, the latter can be a challenge, as it refers to the original language of the book.
Jakub Wróblewski explains:
The meanings in Joyce’s text are too numerous. It’s impossible to pack them into one box, so we’ve broken the text into paths that viewers can watch in real time. You can change what you watch, which isn’t possible in a linear film.
On the other hand, you have a page that does not give you any choices, but rather film-music-text impressions from Beskid Niski, a mountain range in the Outer Eastern Carpathians in southeastern Poland, presented in a random order. At every turn, the order, and therefore the mood, may be different. The only thing that does not change is the content: music by Piotr Bukowski, recordings by Kamil Gubała and the voice of Andrzej Stasiuk talking about seven days in Beskid. Subtle and peaceful.
Of the project, Piotr Bukowski notes:
This boredom and repetition – this is a postcard of time, which in Beskid is somehow different. I endeavoured to make the page like a kaleidoscope. Images are created by drawing from each bag: music, film, text. They are composed in different contexts each time.
This idea from Filip Springer and Michał Szota has its own axis. On the first page, we find something like a good old table of contents, but from there the story of the Służew housing estate in Warsaw develops into a textual and pictorial exploration. Choose and explore only one theme, such as the city garden or follow suggestions – links at the end of each page will lead you forward. Anyone who visits the site gets a unique set of links – the path is their own. Will you stumble upon time-lapse photos from the bazaar, a video report about goats, a photo gallery of parking garages, a text about the large balconies of the housing block? It all depends on fate (or, the code).
Filip Springer’s Miasto Archipelag/City Archipelago is basically a guide to a Poland that is rarely heard about these days. Now a book, it was originally shot by various reportage media channels in former provincial cities. Travel entries can be tracked on Facebook, Instagram, Flipboard, Radio Trójka and the weekly Polityka (this is called ‘transmedia’). On the project’s website, stories are organised on a map. You first choose places, then stories. The goal here is not reading or watching everything but rather exploring and stumbling across surprises.
Filip Springer says:
I am increasingly upset by the informational excess on the web. I want to cut myself off from it. It’s so muddy, I can’t handle it.
It’s not just radio in the shape of a globe. It’s a journey though the languages and music of the world (mostly contemporary in the LIVE section, but there are also archives). The site was created by two Dutch design firms in collaboration with the Institute of Sound and Vision. This audible atlas lets you hear globalisation – where you do not set the knob, there is predictable English-language pop, dance and house. However, when you dig deeper, you have the opportunity to listen to conversations in Swahili, Tamil songs, fiddlers, commercials and jingles somewhere in Alaska or Micronesia…or to check in with what’s playing on the banks of the Wisła.
Bas Agterber of Sound and Vision commented:
When Jonathan Puckey introduced the concept of the site, it was so simple that we all though it must already exist.
Where and how to watch?
On Broadway > on-broadway.nyc > Come with some patience – this site can take some time to load. Once it has, ‘walk’ around Broadway guided by a key, such as Instagram photos tagged in certain locations or households with the smallest annual income.
The Refugee Atlas ♪ > refugeeatlas.com > Set aside an hour or so to explore all the boards on the site. Click links in the image captions to explore their history outside the Atlas.
First We Feel Then We Fall ♪ > firstwefeelthenwefall.com > Best enjoyed after dark with a glass of wine and some good headphones. Select ‘Movie’ and choose a video from the thumbnails. This Joyce inspired experience might even inspire you to pick up the original text (or maybe its Polish translation by Krzysztof Bartnicki?).
Tutajfilm ♪ > tutajfilm.pl > Sit back, dim the lights and contemplate the slow rhythm of the world depicted on screen. You can also use the page as a relaxing backdrop for knitting, cooking, or playing with your kids (assuming you do so in silence). The site is looped indefinitely, so you can just let it run and return to it whenever you need an escape.
Służew ♪ > dwutygodnik.com/sluzew i Miasto Archipelag > miastoarchipelag.pl > On a rainy day when all you want to do is curl up in bed and read, think about trading in your book for a few hours with these sites. Let the links on Służew lead you down exploratory wormholes or explore the maps on Miasto Archipelag by clicking on the black dot in the upper right hand corner of the screen.
radio.garden ♪ > radio.garden/live > Tune in on your phone to learn French on the bus with RFI Monde. Liven up your party with FM radio from Chile. Find your favourite station from the banks of Lake Baikal.
Author: Agnieszka Słodownik; translated by AGA, 14 June 2017