Isle-to-Isle is a collaborative data visualization project by Sher Chew and Berny Tan. Each week, the two read 10 pages from Jules Verne’s classic “scientific romance,” The Mysterious Island, and seperately make a graph representing the book’s content. Their work is published on the project’s website, alongside the corresponding passage by Verne.
In the novel, a group of Americans, led by the railroad engineer Cyrus Harding, hijack a balloon to escape imprisonment by the South during the American Civil War. The balloon drifts to an uncharted island in the South Pacific, where the men create their own microcosm of 19th century civilization. A century and a half after its publication, The Mysterious Island continues to influence literature and popular culture, with numerous adaptations and spin-offs in print, movies, and television, including the computer game Myst.
Isle-to-Isle evolved out of a shared interest in design and a desire to explore different ways reading and interpreting text. In that sense, the project’s inception resembled Verne’s fictive voyage into unknown territory. Neither Sher Chew nor Berny Tan had read the book before. The novel was chosen at random, based on its length and conventional narrative structure. Other parallels emerged. The two designers moved from Singapore to that other insular powerhouse of commerce, Manhattan. Isles to isles—the homophonic word pair also reflected the search for suitable material. The Mysterious Island was discovered, so to speak, by browsing New York’s famous Strand bookstore, the name itself being another name for level, sandy shore.
As of this writing, Isle-to-Isle is halfway finished. I corresponded with Sher Chew and Berny Tan to find out more about the project and get their take on recent developments in the technology of reading, writing, and designing.