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July 2, 2015

Locale: Richmond VA.

The Use of Data Collection in Participatory Art to Express Community, Place and the Everyday

By Jayna Champeau

Locale: Richmond, VA was presented as a thesis exhibition proposal for a Master’s in Exhibition Design from the Corcoran College of Art and Design at the George Washington University in May of 2015. 

My thesis work developed an art exhibition that explores place making using some of the latest in data technology and extensive visitor interaction. The research behind this thesis addresses a multitude of ideas to include place making, site conditioned art, civic engagement, the use of data in art, and the value of technology in modern society. My exhibition proposal attempts to address the changing nature of society’s interaction with technology and the ways an exhibition (and the related art institution) can be seen as a progressive and connected entity in that discourse. The exhibition utilizes dynamic works to create an experience around these subjects that is simultaneously personal and public, multi-sensory, immersive, participatory, unexpected, and engaging.

Locale: Richmond, VA is a multi-location experience involving interactive artworks and data collection to explore place making.

Locale is at the core an art exhibition. It is different from a more traditional art experience in that the artworks are highly interactive and all display data about the local area – be it the area weather, landscapes, or residents. Locale brings the exhibition into various neighborhoods through eight installation locations and with a collected center of activity at a newly opened gallery allowing that institution to immediately establish itself as community centered.

I will begin by discussing the proposed exhibition’s methods of representing place and the chosen location of Richmond, VA. Next, I will discuss the eight installation locations and the gallery location which comprise this exhibition and the interactivity developed which emphasizes the voice of the local community, exploration of collected data, and a connectedness between sites.

Experience of place is immersive, surrounding, and involves all senses. A particular place is also given meaning and character from its residents. An exhibition about place should be equally immersive and multi-sensory with a strong emphasis on visitor contribution.

Interactive artworks proposed for this exhibition ask:

What does a daily commute sound like?

What does it look like to see the social media mentions of your city in an expansive changing display?

What did the people in your area want to be when they were young? And what are their goals today?


Places are also defined by the borders they are given - their location, natural and urban landscapes, and climate.

How would you describe the smells of your local streets?

What is the current of the river today?

And how can wind pattern be visualized?


All artworks proposed for this exhibition are intended as commissions to better reflect the chosen location. A diversity of observational works was chosen that explore natural landscape, built landscape, patterns and traffic, and people and localized social media.

The data is ever-changing as the exhibition progresses, as the audience interacts with its elements, and as some works reflect aspects that may change regularly, such as traffic patterns, weather, or river currents. The experience of Locale hopes to leave visitors with new ways to perceive the day-to-day, to learn new facets about a community they are already a part of, and to be a fun experience where they are encouraged to visit and revisit the exhibitions multiple sites.


It takes a child approximately a decade to develop a full concept of place. Place is complex. The concept is learned within a myriad of associations - of similarity and difference, and importantly personal experience. The data that the art works in Locale display bring forward patterns within a given community and give an audience a prominent voice within an exhibition format.


It is likely that an exhibition in the way this proposal lays out could be located in a number of mid-sized cities. The city of Richmond, VA is the location of this exhibition proposal.


The exhibition desires to reach a wide variety of Richmond residents. A primary audience was developed by examining the current demographics of the urban areas of Richmond, consideration that the central exhibition site is connected with a university, and the large amount of digital technology involved. The primary audience is defined as:


Visitors may initially become aware of the exhibition by chance - encountering it at one of the neighborhood locations. There are nine exhibition locations, the center at the Institute for Contemporary Art and eight neighborhood installations. The various outside installation sites are in diverse neighborhoods, which each have unique character and varied architectural feels.

Sites are close enough to each other to be traveled between within an afternoon and all locations are within one mile of the Institute for Contemporary Art. Each location is identified by a color that corresponds in exhibition graphics, way-finding, and a mobile application. And all installation locations have an interactive artwork that collects and displays a single set of data. 

The eight outside locations are:


The above location at Abner Clay Park in Jackson Ward, prompts visitors to share what they wanted to be when they grew up and what they want to be today by writing with chalk on Candy Chang’s installation which is painted on the pavement. Non-digital interactives such as this one are documented through live feed and recordings.

Over the next few years, Richmond is extending the presence of bike lanes. A Rapid Transit Bus line will be built down centrally located Broad Street in 2016. Several locations have proximity to the James River, which runs at the southern side of Richmond and will begin extensive park revitalization over the next four years.

Examination of these in progress and upcoming urban developments helped inform the selection of exhibition locations and aims to encourage visitors to utilize a recent surge in public transportation initiatives.


Visibility through location choice and proximity to transportation is important as well as a cohesive graphic design treatment and marketing campaign to alert residents of the exhibition. The exhibition’s multi-location presence and move outside of gallery walls gives an opportunity to reach an audience that does not typically seek out art experiences.


Visitors are encouraged to visit the multiple locations and to download the app that lets them contribute to and follow the exhibition when they are not at one of the exhibit locations. The app will allow users to view live feeds from exhibition sites, connect with social media, view data and info-graphics and get directions.


The Institute for Contemporary Art is affiliated with Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). This location will serve as a collected center for the exhibition where visitors can explore the data that the artworks are collecting. Currently being built, the Institute will be located at the highly visible and busy intersection of Broad and Belvidere streets. The first floor Beverly W. Reynolds gallery will be used for the exhibit. This gallery has many natural light opportunities from glass expanses and skylights.


Eight rooms use the diversity of the art selection methods to present a myriad of ways to experience place. The gallery exhibit uses difference in experience to create impact. A visitor moves between large open rooms abuzz with activity to smaller immersive environments and marked difference in light levels.


When visitors first enter the gallery, the title wall, like the branding established at exterior locations, references the location colors in lights and a description of the exhibition introduces visitors to Locale.


Visitors are in a large open room that begins to display the variety and immersive qualities they will experience throughout the gallery exhibition. Sven Bryrt’s touch sensitive floor tracks visitor motion in expanding ripples. Mini printers of the piece Murmur Study send a cascade of paper with social media mentions of Richmond down an 18’ wall.


A device towards the back of the room developed by artist Erik Scholz, busily tracks a biker’s path on local streets. And videos of a passing train entice visitors to go around a back wall where they find Edwin VanderHeide’s sound installation which is linked to microphones at an outside location.

In this first room, visitors have experienced data about people, traffic, and the built environment. If they have not already been aware of the exhibition’s outside presence, these first works have also introduced the idea that they can find artworks connected to these pieces outside and have the ability to contribute on a variety of levels.


A recording station is next encountered, where visitors are prompted to create short recordings. They will find that these have linked with works further along in the exhibit.


From the first open room, visitors then enter a darkened room where they are surrounded by the lit metal sculptures of artist Daan Roosegaarde that reference local plant life.


This opens into a naturally lit, floor to ceiling display by Stephen Finch titled Air Painting.  The artist isolated colors from observations of the local landscape and reproduced them in solid color panes of glass. Visitors can touch plants on Marc Dubui’s metal sculpture and produce musical tones. They can mark their height on an increasingly crowded wall.


A moveable info-graphic about the local plant life lets them observe data individually or layered. This interactive style is used at several points in the exhibition for visitors to gain more data related to the area.

An immersive experience by Teshima Yokoo is enclosed in an adjacent room with images submitted by residents and a mirrored floor that creates a dramatic illusion of extending to infinity. This is a first point visitors may see their recording from the earlier recording station appear.

An interactive developed in conjunction with Stephen Finch’s artwork Air Painting allows visitors to explore the artist’s process in isolating colors from local landscapes by exploring where the colors are found in several images. Interactives are intuitive and reactive to the visitor’s presence, using motion sensor technology to activate as they approach. 


Entering the next open area first passes visitors underneath a device by David Bowen that brings in information about the current wave pattern of the local James River. The motion of the body of water is transmitted by sensors on the rivers surface and mimicked in the metal wire sculpture overhead.  A video allows visitors to observe the technology at the outside site. A constant reference to outside sites is throughout the gallery. It is important that visitors realize that the whole of the exhibition is located throughout Richmond.


Another ceiling piece hangs further in the gallery  - a community collected, growing cloud of lightbulbs by Caitland Brown. Strings hang allowing visitors to turn lights on and off to change the cloud’s appearance. The last artwork in this room, Beak Lab’s Sea of Me, is a wall interacted with by using a digital device. Visitors can scan and listen to stories from other visitors and have the option of instantly adding their own.


Visitors are now entering a central area of the exhibition. The center funnels the data together now that the visitor has explored and contributed throughout the gallery and encourages visitation to neighborhood locations. The center allows visitors to explore the data that has been collected. They can use touch tables to access various info-graphics and previous days data. They can view a series of videos that have updated in real time from the recording station they encountered earlier in the exhibition.


Each neighborhood location is represented in a maquette with a live projection feed. Gallery visitors are able to view people interacting with the installations at the neighborhood locations..

One example is the piece rendered below at Brown’s Island. Stephen Finch’s color wheel asks visitors to observe and match the color of the water with a selection of previously observed color choices.


As visitors exit the galleries center, they can hear musical recordings based on a resident’s daily travels through an interactive developed in conjunction with Brian House’s work Quotidian. Each day a different resident elects to have their daily movement tracked through a cellular application. This information is then interpreted by the artist into a musical score and available to be listened to on this wall of upright vinyl record players.


Visitors can experience artworks exploring local wind patterns and social media before they reach the last room of the gallery exhibit. In this last room, gallery attendants invite visitors to explore scents developed by artist Brian Goeltzenlucher to mimic resident descriptions of daily street smells. Along a wall in this room a large map allows visitors to gain up to the minute information on travel options to outside sites, by bus, walking, bike, and car. And again, encourages them to visit the multiple sites - and revisit.


Throughout the experience of Locale, visitors have observed collected data, contributed to the data being collected and found representations of data about Richmond surrounding them – above, below, and around, as well as been engaged through multiple senses.

Locale encourages its visitors to get out and around their city, to observe it and to contribute their voice to what defines this place.

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