THE CONCEPT OF INFORMATION-ART
By Michael OCallaghan
This Dymaxion world map is a good example of information-art. It was designed by R. Buckminster Fuller using an icosahedral projection to represent the relative sizes of the world’s continents and oceans without the massive distortions of scale found in other flat maps. It projects our planet’s 3D spherical surface onto 20 equilateral triangles with minimum possible distortion in 2D.
I coined the term “information art” in Ireland in 1972 during a field trip to a 5,000 year-old megalithic artwork near the summit of Tibradden mountain, overlooking Dublin Bay and the Irish Sea beyond, shown in the photo below.
This is a small ruined neolithic cairn consisting of a circular mound of rocks the enclosing a collapsed central chamber which connects to a short passage aligned to the summer solstice sunrise. A stone in the centre is carved with a spiral petroglyph solar symbol.
Like all megalithic sites in Ireland, this artwork is constructed of unhewn stones without mortar. The aesthetic has a raw, primitive beauty reminiscent of a bird’s nest. But the astronomical alignment is very sophisticated. The overall effect is very Zen.
I was struck by the elegant simplicity of this ancient artwork: I saw it as a context of information or situation that focusses the attention of the observer (if present in situ on the relevant date) in a specific way. in this case, the focus is on our relation with the sun, the source of all life on Earth.
For eight centuries from 465 to 1283, the Grianán was the seat of the O’Neill and O’Doherty clan rulers of the ancient Kingdom of Aileach.
The Grianán originally included a much larger cairn surrounding the grave of the Dagda’s son, Aedh, who was treacherously killed by the Fomorians during the second battle of Moytura. Alas, it was destroyed by the iconoclast king of Munster, Muirchertach Ua Briain, in 1101.
The surviving circular cashel, restored in the 1870s, remains aligned to sunrise at Spring Equinox, when a sunbeam penetrates through the single entrance across the centre of the site, as you can see on the drone photo on the right.
My notion of information-art is also inspired by the more spectacular and very ancient Grianán of Aileach (Stone Palace or Temple of the Sun), a much bigger megalithic artwork situated on hilltop in Co. Donegal (see photos below and right). Possibly dating back as far as 3,500 BCE, this construction is astronomically aligned to sunrise at the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes, when day and night are equal in time.
According to Irish mythology, the Grianán was built by the Dagda — the Many-Skilled God of All Knowledge of the Tuatha Dé Danaan (People of the Goddess Danu) who lived in Ireland in the Neolithic period, before the later arrival of the Celts in the Bronze Age. This God resides at the famous megalithic site of Newgrange, which is aligned to winter solstice sunrise. The Grianán is said to be the oldest buidling in Ireland. It was renowned from archaic times down to classical antiquity, and notably appears as one of two royal Irish sites in Ptolemy of Alexandria’s 2nd century map of the world.
The Grianán has personal significance for me as the seat of my 4th century ancestor King Niall of the Nine Hostages, ruler of the Northern half of Ireland, who is said to have died circa 420 in the Loire valley. Niall founded the O’Neill dynasty which ruled Ireland for 400 years (this included my maternal ancestor Donagh O’Doherty in 790 and his descendants who were the Prince of Inishowen from then until 1608. Niall's great-great-grandson, Colum Cillle (a.k.a. Saint Columba, 521 – 597) founded the abbey of iona, thus introducing
Christianity to Scotland.
I have described my field trip to Tibradden in a little book called When the Dream Becomes Real, for which I will soon publish a link here.
RELEVANCE FOR GLOBAL VISION
Other examples of information-art
Any artwork or data visualisation that uses creative ways to present knowledge can be defined as information-art. Contemporary artists in ths category include Ai Weiwei, Banksy, Damien Hirst, Manuel Lima, Aaron Koblin, Jenny Holzer, Peter Fend, Mark Lombardi, Nathalie Miebach, Chris Jordan, David McCandless, Moritz Stefaner and the late data visualisation genius Hans Rosling.