The Everything Change by Zoe Sadokierski
This set of experimental information visualisations employs a 'genre-blending' approach (mixing fact with fiction) to communicate the complexity of human interventions in the natural world.
Margaret Atwood’s trilogy of novels – Oryx and Crake, Year of the Flood, Maddaddam – is set in a post-apocalyptic age, some time in the near future, in which human-induced climate change has catastrophically altered the planet and bio-engineering experiments have led to genetically modified creatures evolving in disturbing ways. Rabbits injected with jellyfish DNA glow softly at dusk. Wolf-dog hybrids bred for military service obliterate domestic dogs and hunt humans. Pigs spliced with human stem cells, an experiment in growing organs for human transplants, launch tactical attacks and communicate in a kind of language. Yet the most frightening aspect of Atwood’s vision is that it is based on real-world science. In the postscript to Maddaddam, Atwood says her speculative fiction: ‘does not include any technologies or biobeing that do not already exist, are not under construction, or are not possible in theory.’
'Create-An-Animal' is a set of experimental visualisations which explore ways to communicate how the hybrid creatures in Atwood’s novels relate to real world bioengineering experiments. Within the quasi-scientific specimen charts, excerpts from Atwood’s novels are juxtaposed with excerpts from news reports and scientific articles. This genre-blending (mixing fact with fiction) approach provides an additional ‘threshold for interpretation’ of both Atwood’s novels and the complex ethical situations that bioengineering creates.
These are not literal visualisations of the creatures Atwood describes, but rather information visualisations that highlight the uncomfortable and unnatural nature of these ‘genetic splices’ to encourage further consideration of these ethical and ecological concerns.
The extinction theme that runs through the novels is equally related to real world phenomena. The 'Extinctathon' chart lists all the animals that appear in Atwood's trilogy and the current conservation status of each species or family, based on data from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as of February 2022. In Atwood’s novels, some animals are named by species (Polar bear), others by family (bear). For families, the range from least to most threatened species is shown, e.g. (LC > EX). A star symbol indicates a character named after an animal. The numbers to the right tally how many times each species/family is mentioned across the trilogy. Where a character is named after an animal, a | symbol separates the number of mentions of animal versus character.
Between 2019–2022 these visualisations have been exhibited at the University of Technology Sydney Library, published as a visual essay in the reportage issue 'Rabbit journal' and used in my lectures to students and industry, to explain how 'genre blending' data visualisation can be used to open conversations about complex issues.