VCS alumna Berny Tan e-mailed me earlier this week with information about Isle to Isle, an experimental data visualization project in which she and designer Sher Chew will document their experience of reading Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island over the course of the next year. Here are some comments from Berny about the project’s inception and parameters:
As an artist who works with diagrams and systems in an insistently subjective way, I don’t necessarily handle information in the same way as an information designer. In conversations with my friend Sher Chew, a designer and recent Parsons graduate, I realized that while we spoke with the same passion about the medium of data visualization, we created work in very different ways and with very different outcomes. The fundamental question that this project seeks to answer is—if we each generated interpretations of the same source material, what kind of dialog would that create?
Since we are both avid readers, and have created works based on literature in the past, we decided that this common “source material” would be a book that we would read over the course of a year. We deliberately kept the “intensity” of this project low—reading 10 pages and producing one diagram a week—to ensure that we’ll be able to commit to it for a long period. We’re excited to see this process of absorbing, interpreting, and representing information grow into a rich description of the text and the act of reading itself.
She also directed me to the project’s About page, which contains a lot more information about the project and its creators, including this much more detailed description of what they’ll be doing:
Isle-to-Isle is a web-based experimental reading project conceived by Sher Chew (designer) and Berny Tan (artist/designer) who have backgrounds in data vizualization/information design.
The project commenced on June 1, 2014 with the purchase of the domain name (Isle-to-Isle.info) for the duration of a year. Every week, Sher and Berny each read 10 pages of Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island (Wordsworth Classics edition). Without consulting one another, they will each generate a diagram based off those 10 pages. The nature of the project is relatively organic, with the diagrams being a by-product of their engagement with the text.
Every Sunday, by midnight, both diagrams will be published side-by-side on the website along with the text from the 10 pages. Sher and Berny’s progression through the novel, their shared penchant for diagrams, as well as the process of reading itself, will thus be laid bare in this year-long dual input feed that will ultimately become a mammoth illustration of Verne’s adventure classic.
The name Isle-to-Isle takes its inspiration from the name of the novel, but it is also representative of the collaboration between two individuals. Incidentally, both individuals moved from one island to another—Singapore to Manhattan—to attend art schools in New York City. The word “isle” is also homonymous with “aisle,” much like the aisles of bookshelves that Sher and Berny traversed in search of the text. This further recalls the format of the website, wherein the diagrams run adjacent to one another.
The page linked above also includes short bios of Berny and Sher Chew, and information on their decision criteria for the text they’ll be reading.
Isle-to-Isle is now up and running, with new updates to be added every Sunday. I’ll post an update on the project at the end of summer.
Appendix: Here’s another visual take on Verne’s novel, though maybe not quite as faithful to the original text: the trailer for the 1961 Hollywood film, featuring stop-motion special effects by Ray Harryhausen. The first 45 seconds or so cover the same ground as Berny and Sher’s diagrams for week 1.
And here’s Jules Verne’s original sketch of Lincoln Island from the novel (via Garmt de Vries-Uiterweerd’s “Maps from the Extraordinary Voyages”):