Saturday, December 22, 2012

GISystems, Science, Art and Toolmaking

GIS is an art and this realization begs a couple of questions.  Does the status of GIS as art make it any less a science?  Is arty GIS aligned somehow with its tool-status, in this case for making cool patterns/maps?

I'm thinking specifically of Mei-Po Kwan's Professional Geographer article "Affecting Geospatial Technologies," in which remotely sensed images were turned into maps of emotion.

Reviewing the GISystems/Science debate again in preparation for the upcoming GG3090 Critical GIS and the geoweb course at Royal Holloway has got me thinking about how the debate is still fresh.

A popular image of GIS or GIS-mappy things in movies or games would probably objectify the technology as a tool for making parts of movies or games work.

The map is often a sort of deus-ex-machina that comes in at the right moment to save the day.  Think of the cool maps the mop-haired tech-geek in the latest Bond movie Skyfall uses to leave a trail of ever-so-subtle-and-not-too-obvious breadcrumbs (or mapcrumbs) to lure the bad guy into Scotland where his fate will be sealed.

Cinematic maps obviously have to be flashy and nowadays usually animated to make the cut for cameo appearances in such high stakes movies as those in the Bond or Bourne series.  I've always fallen more for Bourne because the sense in those movies is that you never get off the geospatial platform, that you are always in the map as it zooms in and out of various locales across the globe.

So perhaps in the end GIS as art falls in the realm of that under-discussed area of the debate, that of toolmaking.  GIS provides a means for making tools artists and cinematographers and feminists can use to represent aspects of life that no other toolmaking technology can represent in quite the same way.

This has always been the case with maps.  Maps are both a science and an art.  Think of the crucial guiding role of the map in Hitchcock's 39 Steps.  Obviously there was no GIS when that movie was made, but the map serves to guide a viewer's emotions around the various landscapes in which the action of the movie takes place.  Conley has written about this map, which made me go watch it partly because I was interested but also partly because I didn't have an internet connection in my flat yet, and it was the only thing on my computer I hadn't watched.

So I would hazard a guess, that GIS is art, science and tool, and that toolmaking drives both the art and the science sides of the equation.

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