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Edward Tufte's megaliths
May 22, 2013 8:21 AM   Subscribe

Data visualization guru Edward Tufte has a hobby: erecting stone megaliths. (SL,via)
posted by AceRock (49 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
I want him to build a Stonehenge-like structure that turns out to be a chart of how the Napoleanic Wars were won.
posted by xingcat at 8:29 AM on May 22, 2013 [18 favorites]


Neat. I was really hoping he was doing it all by hand, but apparently not.
posted by DU at 8:32 AM on May 22, 2013


They look good. When's he going to put up the large timber buildings around them?
posted by iotic at 8:35 AM on May 22, 2013


but apparently not

Oh, hell, are you telling me Tufte used UFOs,, too? Just like those lazy Egyptians and Maya!
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:35 AM on May 22, 2013


Why he does the construction himself now.
posted by w0mbat at 8:36 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I will point out that the first photograph is mislabeled and should be "Megalith with 6 Elements (7 If You Count the Dog)." Let's have some rigor, Mr. Precision-Chart!
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:37 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Cool. I have had the opportunity to work with blocks of stone this big with hand tools (making the staircase through the bear mountain portion of the AT) and there is something really satisfying about moving thousand pound stones around.
posted by shothotbot at 8:41 AM on May 22, 2013


Very cool. I like that he lists his materials as stone and air.

"The supporting wall breaks away from traditional walling
("maximize volume of stone in a wall") by creating airspaces
and see-throughs to make a lacy wall. So the wall is about
30% to 40% air. Air is a material."

posted by headnsouth at 8:42 AM on May 22, 2013


Let's have some rigor, Mr. Precision-Chart!

Yes, the data-ink ratio on these megaliths is also very low.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:42 AM on May 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Two thousand years from now, archeologists will puzzle over the mystery of the megaliths. Elaborate astrological explanations will be constructed. Legions of PHd students will be grateful to the long disappeared religious cult that created them.
posted by Yowser at 8:45 AM on May 22, 2013


He is going to kill someone with these things. I don't get the impression he spent a lot of time on structural analysis of the stones he's using, nor given a lot of thought to how the elements of the northeast acts on exposed stone... the load bearing points on some of them are simply ludicrous, and then there's this.

Pretty and all, but it better be fenced off from the public.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:46 AM on May 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Very cool work. Even more to like about Mr. Tufte.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:47 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


He is going to kill someone with these things.
Given how well Stonehenge has held up I think the amount of force needed to topple these would actually be pretty significant.

With that being said, historically speaking there have been deaths from installation art, Richard Serra comes to mind with a piece that killed its installer in the 70s.
posted by ghostpony at 8:55 AM on May 22, 2013


He is going to kill someone with these things.

It probably wouldn't be too hard to come up with an estimated probability of one of these collapsing, and combine that with the amount of time that people spend directly underneath them, and come up with a odds ratio of Edward Tufte Killing Someone With These Things.

I'm guessing the OR would be a numerical indication of notgonnafuckin'happen
posted by entropone at 8:58 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Given how well Stonehenge has held up I think the amount of force needed to topple these would actually be pretty significant.
By the beginning of the 20th century many of the bluestones were leaning precariously, probably due to the increase in curious visitors clambering on them during the nineteenth century. Additionally two of the trilithons had fallen over during the modern era.


So, it's a thing.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:05 AM on May 22, 2013


Pretty and all, but it better be fenced off from the public.

Oh come on. If you want to climb around on precariously balanced rocks-as-art, and the artist doesn't care, why on earth should these be fenced off? Who would monitor the fence? What are the repercussions if you violate it?

Or maybe we shouldn't nanny everyone like this. If someone wants to go climb on some rocks, let them go climb on some rocks. It doesn't take a structural engineer to look at these and conclude they're not the most solid of installations. And if you still want to go clamber up one, you should be able to.
posted by ish__ at 9:09 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Pretty and all, but it better be fenced off from the public.

Trees too. They fall all the time.
posted by headnsouth at 9:13 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe before we rush to adopt stone megaliths we should stop to consider the consequences of blithely giving this technology such a central position in our lives.
posted by oulipian at 9:13 AM on May 22, 2013 [14 favorites]


I'm pretty sure he does almost all his art as private installations on rich people's estates in CT. So don't worry about the public.
posted by smackfu at 9:16 AM on May 22, 2013


Trees too. They fall all the time.

Really? Are you sure? Because I've never heard one.
posted by gwint at 9:17 AM on May 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


I really love the medium and the concept. The execution however.... looks like someone idly playing with jenga blocks. I find this stuff remarkably ugly and unharmonious with nature.

Stonehenge and japanese rock gardens, those things work will, this just looks like a jumble of stones to me.
posted by sp160n at 9:22 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is clearly a sasquatch trap.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:26 AM on May 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


> I'm pretty sure he does almost all his art as private installations on rich people's estates in CT.

When I took his graphics class and he talked about his sculptures I got the distinct impression that it was on his rich guy's estate and that the level of his richness is what people in my pay grade describe as filthy.

I could easily be wrong but that was my take.
posted by bukvich at 9:27 AM on May 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Air is a material.
My god, is someone seriously praising the use of air as a material?!?

Either he's taking credit for something he's not actually done (he didn't actually PUT the air there) or he totally does not get the concept of negative space.

I'm not saying that what he's created isn't a thing of art, but the whole concept of sculpture is where the materials stop, otherwise you just have large squarish blocks of things with no shape. The juxtaposition of something subtle as negative space, and him claiming it as a material comes across like a museum gift shop that sells jello molds of famous sculptures.
posted by Blue_Villain at 9:29 AM on May 22, 2013


Slap*Happy: "Pretty and all, but it better be fenced off from the public."

Maybe he's just ensuring folks stay off his lawn?
posted by chavenet at 9:32 AM on May 22, 2013


I got the distinct impression that it was on his rich guy's estate and that the level of his richness is what people in my pay grade describe as filthy.

He sure wouldn't be the first, at least.

That said, the photos suggest these look pretty good. Who knows though, things are way different in the flesh.

I like the walls best. There's a long tradition of stone walls in the north-east/New England. I like the idea of his taking that as a starting point and doing something interesting.
posted by From Bklyn at 9:35 AM on May 22, 2013


ghostpony: "With that being said, historically speaking there have been deaths from installation art, Richard Serra comes to mind with a piece that killed its installer in the 70s."

Reminds me of this, as does the dog in the first picture: Syrzk v. Village of Tatamount et al. by William Gaddis (later to become part of A Frolic of His Own)
posted by chavenet at 9:40 AM on May 22, 2013


he totally does not get the concept of negative space

I think it's fair to assume Tufte gets the concept of negative space. IIRC there's at least one chapter devoted to the topic in Envisioning Information. I think it's interesting to see him apply his design aesthetics to a different medium than visualizing data in print. I'm not sure it's entirely successful, but it's hard to tell from photographs. And lacking the narrative of data visualization, it's really a different thing entirely than what he's famous for. Anyway, as pretentious as it is to list "air" as a material, I'm certain Tufte thinks of it exactly that way.

Tufte has a fascinating discussion forum on his site where he regularly engages with fans, other designers, etc. I don't see much discussion there of his sculptural works, but I haven't looked closely.
posted by Nelson at 9:43 AM on May 22, 2013


Trees too. They fall all the time.

They do, and yes, people sue over it when it damages their property or injures someone. Now if someone were to stack giant timbers in a precarious fashion like these stones, it would be much harder to defend than a tree falling.

the load bearing points on some of them are simply ludicrous, and then there's this.

That's the one that stuck out most to me, too. That thing looks like it is just waiting to collapse. Wouldn't want to be around when the ground below it gets wet and soft.
posted by Hoopo at 9:48 AM on May 22, 2013


He is going to kill someone with these things. I don't get the impression he spent a lot of time on structural analysis of the stones he's using...

How much data went into that impression? Did you get to the point where he's got a stonemason on site?
posted by DU at 10:07 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


It doesn't take a structural engineer to look at these and conclude they're not the most solid of installations. And if you still want to go clamber up one, you should be able to.

Come to think of it, this guy should throw some unstable sculptures up on the beach at Fort Tilden! Give the kids something to play with.
posted by ReeMonster at 10:22 AM on May 22, 2013


I so hope this becomes the inspiration for dangerous upper middle class aspirational megalithic installations.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:56 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Two thousand years from now, archeologists will puzzle over the mystery of the megaliths. Elaborate astrological explanations will be constructed. Legions of PHd students will be grateful to the long disappeared religious cult that created them.

Either that, or everything from Stonehenge onward will be dismissed as "That goddamn Tufte fucking around again."
posted by Etrigan at 11:45 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Beats the hell out of PowerPoint.
posted by Mcable at 12:03 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Given how well Stonehenge has held up I think the amount of force needed to topple these would actually be pretty significant.

Well, those guys had structural engineers.

Or rather, a centuries-long tradition of building in that way - they understood footings, and weathering, and so on.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:11 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


And the stuff that wasn't as well-built fell down over the course of the next several centuries.
posted by Etrigan at 12:11 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


And the stuff that wasn't as well-built fell down over the course of the next several centuries.

As with cathedrals.

I think I found one of the aesthetic influences for his stuff, which mostly seems to be a deadfall wating to happen.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:23 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you'd prefer a Mother Nature-engineered one of these contraptions, you can buy your own: Natural Bridge, VA is for sale.
posted by headnsouth at 12:24 PM on May 22, 2013


Two thousand years from now, archeologists will puzzle over the mystery of the megaliths. Elaborate astrological explanations will be constructed. Legions of PHd students will be grateful to the long disappeared religious cult that created them.

Not really, no.

Because, just as everyone in Europe and Asia is now somehow related to Genghis Khan, in two thousand years, everyone on Earth will be a direct line ancestor of an attendee* of one of Tufte's lectures.
 
 
---------------------------------
* Although you still wont be able to tell by looking at their work. You can lead a horse to water. . . .
posted by Herodios at 1:22 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tufte himself is the monolithic platonic form of a very specific species of pretentious east coast snobtwattery. I mean I love that he took a hammer to an idol and all. Pretty books with other people's creative stuff laid out nicely. But creative himself? Take a two year old's rock stack and scale with money and woah; you've created something that was 'fresh' three millennia ago. I do have a bone here since I paid him five hundred bones to learn about graph design and was instead treated a long meandering self-masterbatory monologue about these same 'art works.' Why must scholars from Yale not be content with being just good scholars? We shouldn't humor them and let them delude themselves into thinking they have talent too. He's his own hype factory gone wild in directions that don't make sense. Don't be fooled by the hairs in his nostrils. Anyone who has graduated from kindergarten could make his art. And no, that's not a complement on some bull higher simplicity aesthetics. It's a stack of rocks.
posted by astrobiophysican at 2:55 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


astrobiophysican the 500 was supposed to be expensed to your employer. Didn't he give big discounts if your employer wouldn't send you? That is a perfect example of a service where you need to have two price tiers to maximize your haul.
posted by bukvich at 3:33 PM on May 22, 2013


... will be a direct line ancestor of an attendee ...

Do you mean a direct line descendant? Or is this an obscure Dr. Who reference?
posted by Bruce H. at 3:54 PM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


These look awesome.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:54 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bukvich: regardless of cost and who pays... it was a session about the outer limits of narcissism. It wasn't advertised as such. I wanted to hear about designing charts but he had 'moved on' and wanted to blather about his art without point or principle illuminated. I know I'm not alone in this assessment of the course: buy the book. Avoid the man.
posted by astrobiophysican at 7:38 PM on May 22, 2013


Either that, or everything from Stonehenge onward will be dismissed as "That goddamn Tufte fucking around again."

Tufte may even end up being worshiped as part of some future Pantheon of Gods, like a cross between Hephaestus and Loki.
posted by homunculus at 2:19 AM on May 23, 2013



Tufte himself is the monolithic platonic form of a very specific species of pretentious east coast snobtwattery. . . . It's a stack of rocks.

Perhaps he could create something from that enormous chip you're carrying.
 
posted by Herodios at 5:35 AM on May 23, 2013


I dunno. I saw a Tufte lecture years ago and he did talk about designing charts as advertised, but if what astrobiophysician is describing is how Tufte's lectures go these days, I'd be pretty cranky about it too.
posted by furiousthought at 6:36 AM on May 23, 2013


Because, just as everyone in Europe and Asia is now somehow related to Genghis Khan, in two thousand years, everyone on Earth will be a direct line ancestor of an attendee* of one of Tufte's lectures.
---------------------------------
* Although you still wont be able to tell by looking at their work. You can lead a horse to water. . . .
posted by Herodios at 1:22 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]

Loved the one-day seminar, agree that few learn enough from it, not crazy about the sculpture. But St. Tufte, the greatest menace to PowerPoint in the history of mankind, is my hero.
posted by gum at 7:36 PM on May 23, 2013


when humanity reboots itself again in another thousand years, those of us near-immortals that managed the great posthuman flight will be getting our lulz watching future archeologists puzzle over these, from our secret base on the dark side of the Moon.
posted by homunculus at 5:21 PM on May 24, 2013


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