In Medias Res, created for the Mitchell Museum, Mt. Vernon, IL, 2009.

The Mitchell Museum put on an exhibition of work relating to its redesign. This project decided to look at how the museum's constituents--its visitors, staff, and artists--perceived the redesign.

First a survey was sent out or otherwise made available to members of all these groups. They filled out and returned the survey, which Chris then analyzed and put into chart form. These charts were then displayed in two formats: first, they were divided by constituent group and then superimposed on top of each other, turning the organized information of the charts into seeming visual chaos. These were printed on canvas. Second, they were printed as books, again organized by constituent groups, but this time laid out separately, and given an additional textual analysis, acting in essence as a key to the wall charts.        

THE SURVEY
This project began as a survey that was sent out to the three main constituents of the Mitchell Museum: the visitors, the staff, and the artists.  The survey asked 25 questions focused on the museum’s recent redesign.  The survey can be found in the books nearby.

The questions were divided into three parts.  The first part, General Personal Data, asked the kind of semi-invasive, semi-irrelevant personal questions that any survey uses to divide up its data by demographic categories—except in this case, the questions were even more absurd: what is your height?  Are you right or left handed?  A few questions were more appropriate to the subject at hand and asked about the participant’s art preferences and feelings about change.

The second part of the survey, Data on Your Relationship with Museums, asked questions that were directly related to the topic, getting at the participant’s museum experiences: how long have you been coming to the Mitchell Museum, what kind of museums do you like, do you go to museums alone or in a group (the last of which gets at the deeper question of what people are looking for in a museum: a quiet, personal journey or a social, active event?).

In the third part of the survey, Opinions Regarding the Museum’s Changes, the questions are still focused on the museum’s redesign, but they become less didactic and more about creative thinking, often taking the form of analogies: what adjective best describes the museum’s redesign, what other famous museum redesign is this redesign most like, what famous transitional period in history is most reflective of the changes the museum has gone through?

The survey thus simultaneously satirizes the narrow, shallow structure of standard surveys in its first part while using an entirely different kind of question in the third part, ironically finding a more accurate portrait of people’s true thoughts by venturing into creative abstractions.

THE BOOKS
The information from these surveys was collated and divided into three groups, one for each of the original demographic categories: visitors, staff, and artists.  The information was put into chart form and analyzed for its implications. These charts and analyses were made into three books, thereby forming a self-encapsulated set of data for each group.  The books can be identified by the letter on their covers: V for Visitors, S for Staff, A for Artists.

THE PRINTS
The charts for each demographic group were then stacked on top of each other in transparent layers and printed out at a large scale, looking more like abstract paintings than an aggregation of data.  At least a part of each chart can still be seen in the jumbled visual composition that results.  These prints thus form something of a full circle for this project: the data began as unconscious information swirling around in people’s individual heads.  Then it was sorted and analyzed into discrete, clear packets.  Finally it was returned to a sort of primal mass once again, resembling its origins in the participants’ unconscious minds just as much as its result as a hyper-formal aggregation of data.

CONCLUSIONS
Thus the final form of the project can be read in two ways: one as an analysis of the Mitchell’s redesign, looked at from all angles, didactic and associative, from users of all stripes; the other as an analogy of possible ways that this kind of information might be digested and stored, which asks questions of its own: are our minds more like the books or the prints?  Are our thoughts a mass of unsorted information and stimuli; are they neatly organized; or are they a mix—a collection of intensively-arranged data that appears to be chaotic until you find the proper key to decode it?

 

PDF copy of the original survey

 

The graphs, available in low-res JPG or multi-level PDF formats:

Visitor graph: JPG | PDF

Staff graph: JPG | PDF

Artist graph: JPG | PDF

 

Complete PDF copies of the books: Visitor Book | Staff Book | Artist Book

 

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