The Aesthetics of Modelling: patterns, politics and pleasure in visual representations
Mikkel Kenni Bruun (University of Cambridge)
Alice Pearson (University of Cambridge)
SOAS Senate House - S209
Start time:
2 June, 2018 at 9:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

Models are visual representations with vast material effects. This panel considers their consequences by asking what is aesthetically compelling in the practice of modelling, and by situating models in conversation with patterns, politics and pleasure in the anthropology of art and science.

Long abstract:

The practice of modelling shapes realities. From envisioning networks in big data, graphs in economics, diagrams in psychology, biomedical mapping, and global systems analyses in climate change to shipping supply chains, modelling is a practice of crafting visual representations that produces vast material effects.  This panel will consider what is aesthetically compelling about this process, to decipher what becomes (un)desirable about certain social arrangements through their visual representation. The efficacy of models will be explored by asking questions such as: how do qualities such as friction, disruption, and flow become enticing or unappealing through the aesthetic qualities they acquire in the act of modelling? What notions of beauty are entailed in their colour, shape, and scale? How is meaning articulated in depictions of dimensions, intensity, and magnitude? The panel will approach these issues ethnographically while seeking insights from the artistic, cartographic and topographic technologies that shape the practices of modelling. It will explore experiences of these processes, from the satisfying to the monotonous, and examine how mastery of the craft of modelling establishes expertise in its associated disciplines. Many such practices draw their authority from claims to objectivity and rational scientific process, often producing visual representations that pertain to be absent of particular political intention, but which are central to policy-making on an array of issues. While this claim differs significantly to that of some artistic endeavours, this panel will also seek to draw insights into the efficacy of modelling by situating the practice in conversation with discussions on the intersection of politics, science and art.