Bernat Esquirol

Embracing exploration in the age of efficiency

As early as 1852, elevators became a safe way to travel up and down. Elisha Graves Otis invented a safety device that prevented a fall in the event of a broken cable. This creation was revolutionary, not only because he designed and marketed his safe elevators, but also because it permitted modern cities to grow in height, thus limiting their territorial expansion and making it possible to build dense cities like New York thanks to the construction of skyscrapers. Since then, the elevator is a method of transportation that allows us to move from A to B quickly, effectively and, above all, directly. However, as we travel, we are unaware of where we are in the building, so we are unable to interact with it. It is only through a small signal that we can determine which floor we are on. The modernization of elevators and the development of panoramic elevators has enabled us to view our surroundings but still disabled our capacity to interact with them. In essence, we remain confined to ‘vertical exploration’.

A staircase or circular ramp would be an alternative method to commute from one floor to another in a building. The Guggenheim Museum in New York is a good example of this. Unlike an elevator which moves in a straight line from one floor to another, the Guggenheim’s ramp winds and spirals its way through the museum. Here, walking from one point to another allows us to perceive the space around us and, more importantly, interact with it. We can head to an exhibition on Russian Constructivism on the top floor and, on our way, even if it was not planned, find an exhibition on Renaissance and another on Neoclassicism.

As a result, the point to which we were initially heading can be redefined along the way, and we have the possibility to wander and discover as we please.

Similarly to the elevator or circular ramp analogy, let us imagine searching for a book in a bookstore: if we ask the bookseller directly, they can point us to the exact spot on the shelf where the book is, or if we know how the shelves and columns are arranged and coded, we can follow the code thematically, alphabetically, etc. — until we find our book. However, just like an elevator can only take us to predetermined destinations, this narrow focus can limit our potential and prevent us from discovering new opportunities. The alternative may take longer, but we may discover something interesting along the way.

As it happens, in the digital world we also have elevators and museum ramps. The elevator in this case would be a classic Internet search engine that displays the precise results of an algorithm, which takes us quickly and efficiently from one point to another without revealing other possibilities. On the other hand, the Guggenheim ramp is synonymous to navigating the digital sphere, through a vast and varied landscape of information, inviting us to get lost within its latent space so that we can discover things we were not originally seeking. The discovery​ process​ along the way may be somewhat more frustrating than obtaining direct ​and immediate ​results, but it will ​nevertheless ​always be more valuable and ​enriching. Sometimes, instead of following predetermined paths and algorithms, experimentation and exploration can uncover new insights. In fact, this experience can be more detailed and enlightening, and we can gain intuition by getting lost within the information. This exploratory spirit enables us to ​understand structure​, ​complex sets of information, ​identify patterns, clusters, outliers, or just stumble upon the unexpected.

Early interactive data exploration projects emerged during the early years of this century thanks to easy access to large and complex data sets and the possibilities offered by Adobe Flash to a new generation of highly creative programmers. The combination of data and creativity led to the creation of projects such as Design and the Elastic Mind (2008), commissioned by the MoMA in New York and developed by the Japanese studio THA LTD. Through semantic relationships, the homonymous exhibition could be explored, or projects like Thinking Machine (2003) by Martin Wattenberg and Marek Walczak could provide insight into an algorithm’s thinking process during a chess game through data visualization. Bestiario was born at precisely this moment of creative explosion and became part of this group of creators whose goal was to expand the limits of interaction in order to find new languages and tools that could give tangible form to the new structures of cyberspace.

The elevator, whether in a building or in the digital world, is helpful when we need to navigate the road that separates two points, but in the complex world we live in where everything is constantly in flux, having access to tools that give us the ability to explore, understand and discover is critical to finding new ideas and opportunities.