Todd Margolis

Shape Grammar Objects

Role: Co-creator
2009

Shape Grammar Objects builds upon a previous large scale art-science collaboration, Atlas in silico, created in response to the contemporary cultural phenomena of the data deluge. ATLAS provides an intuitive discovery based infrastructure and unconventional methodology for investigating and understanding massive multidimensional data. Within ATLAS in silico, a shape grammar approach was created using n-dimensional glyphs to visualize metagenomics data from the Global Ocean Sampling Expedition (GOS).

This shape grammar was employed to represent millions of abstract individual records from the GOS (each record having variation in sequence, molecular structure and function as well as contextual metadata) and placed the biological data within each record in a human context. Within the virtual environment users explore GOS data in combination with contextual metadata at various levels of scale and resolution through interaction with multiple data-driven visual and auditory patterns at different levels of detail. It is a hybrid multi-scale strategy that merges quantitative and qualitative representation in ways that do not require a priori knowledge of the relationship between the underlying data and its mapping.

Shape grammar is used to algorithmically generate glyphs in real-time to reflect differences in the underlying data and metadata. In this way differing data can potentially be visually sorted in an exploratory fashion by an observer using their innate pattern recognition capability. This demands an approach that generates as wide a range of distinctive patterns as possible to represent millions of unique objects.

A small sample of these algorithmic objects were used to generate printed visual altas plates and rapid prototyped sculptures as "natural specimens". Shape Grammar Objects are images and sculptures that return to the formalisms of biological atlases and preserved specimens of the 19th Century, documenting variation at a material scale that allows a visual experience of the data to augment blind algorithmic queries. This historic linkage is also reiterated by integrating the aesthetics of fine-lined copper engraving, lithography and grid-like layouts of 19th Century scientific representation with contemporary digital processes.



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Exhibitions

2009
SIGGRAPH 2009, New Orleans, LA

2009
Scalable Relations, UCSB - Santa Barbara, CA