Diagrams of Power: Exploring Inconvenient Truths

Diagrams of Power is an ongoing exhibit at Onsite Gallery, the flagship professional gallery of OCAD University in Toronto, Canada. Onsite Gallery is treated as an experimental curatorial platform for art, design, and new media – an ideal space for Diagrams of Power. Curated by Patricio Dávila, the collection of works pushes the envelope around what art can be, and how it can be used, in a world increasingly viewed through the lenses of technology and big data.

Kicked off on July 11th, the exhibit seeks to explore various data representations – maps, diagrams, and visualizations that ultimately tell “inconvenient stories that upset and resist the status quo.” In tune with the theme of diversity and representation, a variety of works were selected from artists across various mediums and fields of expertise, including design, art, cartography, geography, research, and activism. Though the exhibit could have easily pushed a political agenda, it maintained an impressive sense of objective clarity. Onlookers were invited to bring in their own vantage points, lived experiences, and departing questions to each piece of work, rather than being told what was right or wrong around topics of power. How do we navigate inequality and historical wrongs? What does it mean to lack or possess power, and how do I fit within these different narratives?

One work that particularly stood out was “Property Praxis,” an interactive digital map by Joshua Akers, an assistant professor of geography and urban and regional studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. In Akers’ work and research, he explores the “intersection of markets and policy and their material impacts on everyday life.” As a comment on the tensions and implications of real estate ownership, the map displayed a repository of individuals who owned numerous properties, often vacant, across the United States. This phenomenon, which occurs across the globe, represents one of the significant issues posed by mass land ownership: artificial increases in real estate pricing, which then causes a financial creep that displaces longtime homeowners. The sinister aspect of this lies in its long-term effects – namely the cultural demotion and infrastructure dissolution of towns and cities.

Another piece that gained comical attention was “Best of Luck with the Wall,” a seven-minute video by Josh Begley, a data artist and app developer based in Brooklyn, New York. Begley’s work has been showcased by a range of journals, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The New York Times, as well as museums such as The Whitney, The MoMA, and the New Museum of Contemporary Art. In a time of political adversity, exclusivity, and loaded – and, quite frankly, strange – threats by world leaders, Begley introduces reality with a visual representation of common sense. A cheeky response to Donald Trump’s previous promise to build a wall separating Mexico and the United States, “Best of Luck with the Wall” comprises of 200,000 satellite images. A sped up border voyage, it visualizes the arduous and unlikely reality of ever separating the two nation’s populations with brick and concrete.

Other notable works included data visualizations from The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, an exploration of the dispossession and resistance to the gentrification of American landscapes, as well as 69 digital print reproductions of statistics from the late 1800s regarding African-American and rural communities in Georgia, which were originally displayed by W.E.B. Du Bois at the 1900 Paris Exposition.

For more information on the exhibit, visit diagramsofpower.net. You can also check it out in person before September 29th at Onsite Gallery, found on Richmond Street West in Toronto, Canada.

the author

Jac Sanscartier

Jac is an innovation analyst at Idea Couture. She is based in Toronto, Canada.