The Rhetorical Art of Data


Session Title:

  • Data Visualisation and Media Content

Presentation Title:

  • The Rhetorical Art of Data




  • Visualization as a technique of analysis has been employed by a wide range of disciplines in order to better understand large quantities of data about systems. The malleability of data and information in digital form, together with the interactive potential of real-time technologies, has made the use of the technique on computers and the internet particularly effective. The value of data visualization is generally understood in terms of the accuracy of the representation. This approach to the technique may commonly be identified in the way in which data visualization, when employed as a social critique in activist art, has been interpreted. Such art work on the internet has focussed attention on, for example, the use of the internet by corporations to acquire data in the pursuit of power and commercial gain. However, understood in these terms, the artistic use of data visualization has been criticised. The value of the technique to engage artistically with the immersion of societies in data flows whose speed and intensity have been accelerated by the internet has been doubted.

    Questions have been raised as to whether or how its use by art may be differentiated from visualisations effectively employed by other disciplines.  I will propose that data visualization in art, instead of being approached in terms of whether it is a truthful representation of the world, may be understood to have rhetorical force.  My argument, using the work of Jacques Derrida, is that art may open a critical awareness of the value-systems and hierarchies of importance that give rise to the networks and data flows that are visualized. I will focus specifically on the way that legal systems enable the creation and enforcement of certain types of entities and relationships, such as corporations and their directors. Internet art may allow viewers to reflect on the justice of the system being critiqued through the interactive visualization of the contingent and finite networks that are represented. In doing so, internet art may allow for the arrival of what an existing social order has to occlude in order to maintain its existence without change.

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