Reflections on the Macramé and Data Feminism workshop

 Written by Assistant Professor, Vasiliki Tsaknaki, IT-University

 

Celebrating Ada Lovelace day 2020, I was invited to run a workshop on MacramĂ© and Data Feminism at the ETHOS Lab. Hosting a hands-on workshop with a material and crafts focus during Covid times was a challenging endeavour, but together with Marie, Marisa and Rachel we managed to successfully facilitate a hybrid of physical and remote participation, at the ETHOS Lab and at participants’ homes. Using cotton yarns, soft beads made of felted wool, data sets, and our bodies (i.e. hands to make MacramĂ© knots and thighs to stabilize our design while crafting), we embarked on a journey towards exploring ways that knots and tying can be used for visualizing and materializing gender data. We explored not only how to materialize gender data with MacramĂ©, but also what it might feel like to work with data in this way. Especially how this craft technique can offer a potential path to surface and actively work with notions of power, privilege and level of inclusivity, among other issues that are core to data representation and visualization.

Working with MacramĂ© and yarn brought softness to data visualization – a quality that we do not usually relate to data. We saw a potential on further exploring how softness, as a quality of data materialization, can create new relations to how data can be represented and interpreted, while at the same time perhaps challenge the “objectivity” and “neutrality” of data, as opposed its actual “soft” and “malleable” properties. other reflection, shared by one participant, was that the amount of yarn that was available to work with, which was finite, highlighted notions of (in)finiteness of data: We usually consider data representations to be potentially infinite, even if only a part of it can be shown on the screen or on a visualized physical graph, for example. The malleability of the MacramĂ© technique and the soft materials used for visualizing data proved also fruitful for exploring how to represent emotions and inscribe personal choices on data materializations. For example, choices pertaining to what it should be highlighted or not, i.e. whose voice or perspective should be brought to the fore. One participant decided to materialize data on the number of students enrolled to ITU, from a student, rather than from an ITU perspective, aiming to shift and trouble underlying power relations.

Finally, gender and data became a focal point of discussion in relation to queerness: instead of reproducing the male/female binary, working with data feminism and MacramĂ© could also be a way of surfacing and allow us to work with a broader and more inclusive dimension of gender, race and privilege. After all, feminism is not only about privileging the female gender, but, as articulated by D’Ignazio and Klein in their book Data Feminism (2020), “feminism is about who has power and who doesn’t, about the consequences of those power dierentials, and how those power dierentials can be challenged and changed” (p.13). It is exactly these relations to power that we want to explore further and continue to trouble with our follow-up events on MacramĂ© and Data Feminism at the ETHOS Lab.

‘We saw a potential on further exploring how softness, as a quality of data materialization, can create new relations to how data can be represented and interpreted, while at the same time perhaps challenge the “objectivity” and “neutrality” of data’

‘The malleability of the MacramĂ© technique and the soft materials used for visualizing data proved also fruitful for exploring how to represent emotions and inscribe personal choices on data materializations’

‘MacramĂ© could also be a way of surfacing and allow us to work with a broader and more inclusive dimension of gender, race and privilege’

 

Reference 
D’Ignazio, C. and Klein, L.F., 2020. Data feminism. MIT Press.