(C)olumn: Data Visualization in Public Sculpture through Participatory Process

Commissioned by the city of Bloomignton, Indiana, (C)olumn project realizes complex data visualization in the form of public sculpture through a participatory process that uses of social media and web technologies. The project is a collaboration with my colleague Jon Racek.

(C)olumn at night. Photo courtesy: Jon Racek
(C)olumn at night. Photo courtesy: Jon Racek

Participatory public art is an approach to making art in which the public are engaged directly in the creative process, changing their roles from being merely viewers to creators. Participatory art challenges the notion that professional classes of artists/designers are dominating the form-making process and that the public are the passive observers. But how can the public be effectively engaged in the form-making process, particularly in the making of a monolithic-like gateway sculpture? Can the social media and web technologies mediate the public’s direct participation? (C)olumn project intends to understand the relationship between public participation, data visualization and form making in public art.

(C)olumn details. Photo courtsey: Jon Racek
(C)olumn details. Photo courtsey: Jon Racek

Approximately 11 feet in height and 5 feet in width,  (C)olumn  is a tapered “C”- shaped architectural room with myriads of words about Bloomington cutout and inscribed onto steel panels. The “C” in the name “(C)olumn” represents the values of connectivity, culture and community.   The design is meant to act as an “urban room”, an architectural folly that allows passers-by to stop their busy lives, stop, enter the (C)olumn site and look in a variety of ways.

Fabrication process. Photo courtesy: Jon Racek.
(C)olumn installation. Photo courtsey: Jon Racek

Bloomington public was directly involved in order to come up with a visual concept that truly represented Bloomington community, a college town with a population of roughly 80,000. During a three-month period, Jon and I set up web interfaces to solicit inputs from Bloomington community through social media sites. Answer Garden, a free web 2.0 tool, was used to collect the words from the residents anonymously and posted their words instantaneously. These words were then displayed in a word cloud format in which the size of each input word indicated its popularity and frequency among Bloomington residents. Hundreds of residents submitted inputs in Answer Garden. The final word cloud, consisted of roughly three hundred unique words ranging from words like “Over-priced” to “Basketball,” were collected at the end of the three-month period and were used as the base for a final design that was produced in CAD programs such as Rhino. This finished word cloud design, was then sent to a local sheet fabricator to be laser cut onto six large ¼ inch thick steel panels. These large panels were then rolled into the three dimensional forms and were welded into one structure.

Website that calls out for participatory design.
Website that calls out for participatory design.

Sitting quietly next to the historic park and illuminated at night, (C)olumn is brimming with the energy of vibrant night scenes of the nearby BEAD district, full of words from the people of the community.

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