A CONVERSATION WITH JENNIFER CHENOWETH
By Sofia Sokolove
Jennifer Chenoweth’s art starts not with a medium, but with an idea. “Then I work backwards to decide the best way to execute my ideas,” the animated artist explains during a conversation in her East Austin home/studio.
Such was the case with her latest project, The XYZ Atlas, an interactive public art piece that doubles as an examination on how humans create attachment to place. Wanting to visualize those attachments and study patterns, Chenoweth turned to the Austin community. The artist created a 20-question survey asking people to identify where they have had significant experiences. She then used the responses to create a body of work — including a series of Geographic Information System maps, temporary art installations, unique 2-D and 3-D artworks and a digital platform — that maps Austin’s collective emotional highs and lows. (Willing participants can still take the survey online here.)
The final edition of The XYZ Atlas: The Hedonic Map of Austin Finale, will be released and on display at Barton Springs during the West Austin Studio Tour (May 14-15 and 21- 22). An interactive mapping event will take place at Zilker Park on May 21 and 22. Before the project culminates, we caught up with the artist to shed light on the project and her inspiration.
You have worked as an artist in Austin for more than two decades, but this is arguably your most ambitious project to date. Tell us why The XYZ Atlas is different.
It’s really outside of class, race, art history, education or whatever, so that all kinds of different people feel valued in it. It’s really been exciting for me, because art can really make you feel stupid sometimes. You can listen to classical music and maybe assume you would understand it more if you knew about theory, but emotionally you can enjoy it just as much. But not all visual art can allow for that experience. I’ve been excited to be able to talk to anybody about it and not feel like it’s arrogant. The whole point is that it’s valuing their stories and I’ll take those stories and I’ll make it into this stuff.