Jennifer Chenoweth’s XYZ Atlas
For years, the artist has been mapping locals’ emotional experiences of the city and making them into art
BY SAM ANDERSON-RAMOS, FRI., MAY 13, 2016
When I was 18, I got my first job at Schlotzsky’s Deli near South Lamar and Riverside Drive. I hated it. I’d just dropped out after only a few months at UT because I felt like I was being forced to do things I had no use for. I’d be damned if someone was going to loom over me making sure I executed the Original to their satisfaction. So, on my third day I turned in my uniform and walked out. A few hours later, I applied for a job at nearby BookPeople, where I would eventually take on responsibilities that revolutionized my self-perception and meet people who would guide me, in one way or another, toward both the ugliest and most awe-inspiring moments of my life. As trifling as it may seem, every time I pass that Schlotzsky’s, I think about who I was then and the unique circumstances that led me from there to the person I am today.
There is something gorgeous about the democracy of place, a notion given form by local artist Jennifer Chenoweth’s XYZ Atlas: A Hedonic Map of Austin. Chenoweth began the project in 2013 when she and cohorts refined a list of 20 questions meant to explore people’s personal experiences of Austin. Questions included: “Where did you fall in love?”; “Where did you have an experience that caused your awareness to change?”; “Where did you feel utter disgust?” The survey is sincere, and it requests sincerity of its audience. I completed the survey at the XYZ Atlas website, an experiment that led to multiple revelations. I never would have guessed, for instance, that my answer to the questions “Where do you go to reconnect with nature?” and “Where do you experience your own mortality?” would be the same: the parking lot at our apartment complex, where I can see the stars.