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Art & Ideas: Artist Norwood Viviano Explores Population Data through Glass Sculpture

February 16, 2018 // by Caitlin Swindell

What do Jacksonville, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Boston, and New Orleans have in common? Aside from being major cities in the U.S., they are five of the twenty-five total represented cities in Norwood Viviano's installation, Cities: Departure and Deviation currently on view at MOCA Jacksonville in the exhibition, Call & Response. 

011_MOCA Call Response 3F-2017-1030-028
© NORWOOD VIVIANO, Cities: Departure and Deviation (Jacksonville Metropolitan Statistical Area, County of Duval, City of Jacksonville), 2017. Glass and vinyl cut drawing. Museum purchase. Photo by Doug Eng.

At first glance, the series of black and white glass sculptures suspended in the third floor galleries might appear simplistic as they are created through a minimalist approach. Upon closer inspection, however, the viewer encounters in alphabetical order, a series of cities realized in glass, alongside corresponding population data. Unlike a graph, chart, or dataset, Viviano's glass pieces allow a connection to data in a visually impactful way. 

MOCA Jacksonville is thrilled to have recently acquired the Jacksonville pieces included in the exhibition and pictured above. Viviano made these glass-blown sculptures specifically for this exhibition, and he worked with UNF Chair and Professor of Economics, Dr. Albert Loh in researching statistics on the city of Jacksonville and Duval County. Loh and Viviano will discuss this project at MOCA on February 22nd from 7-8 pm. I spoke with Norwood and relayed some of our visitors' most frequently asked questions. 

Tell us a little bit about how the project Cities: Departure and Deviation developed. You initially focused on cities of the Midwest. How did the project expand?

 The Project Cities: Departure and Deviation grew out of my previous project Recasting Michigan, which looked specifically at population change as tied to industry in a variety of Michigan cities. The opportunity to create Cities: Departure and Deviation gave me the chance to create a project that compares the transformation of the city of Detroit to 23 other cities. Initially, I focused on the Midwest, but the project quickly grew to include cities like New York, Houston, and Los Angeles. Including cities outside the Midwest created ways to look at the link of coastal cities/port cities and population.

Some pieces have more transparent sections and others opaque, and some pieces are white and others black. What do these visual elements signify?

A simple answer is that the pieces are hand-made so they have some irregularities, which l like. In fact, some people comment that the pieces look as though they're manufactured in a mold. However, the glass forms are completely made by hand, but in the glass blowing process we use tools to touch the hot glass - so the tools become extensions of our hands.

In thinking about the color for the project. Glass pieces with a bottom that's white indicates a city that has increasing population. Glass pieces with a black bottom indicates a city that's decreasing in population. Many of the pieces are assembled in the incalmo process - which is actually putting two different color bubbles together. In many of the black and white variations there's a gray component on the top. The gray starts at the point where you see a great transition in population. 

As you gathered data and went through historical records, did you find a piece of data or a city's density change that particularly surprised you? 

There's several things that surprised me along the way. One of the main connections I found between cities is the way a city and its population can be mapped over time. Meaning I was looking at specific data points for all of the cities - so looking at things with the same lens created opportunities for comparison. An example of this is the similarity between the Atlanta glass form and Seattle glass form. Two cities that have very different histories, but when mapped out in the same project begin to have strong similarities - especially in the latter part of the twentieth-century.

What are some observations that you have of Jacksonville as it fits into the project as a whole?

Two things that I hadn't come across much in my earlier research were the terms, Consolidated Government and the Metropolitan Statistical Area. Looking at these two terms created ways of considering Jacksonville and its development, but also encouraged me to go back and look at some of my studies based on other urban areas. This process included reinvestigating Indianapolis which went through a combining of its urban area with the outlying suburban area. This development helped the city during a time of sprawl and kept population more strongly tied to the city. I created the graphs for Jacksonville to strongly honor the changes in the city. You can see this in how the graphs have been combined to acknowledge the transformation of the city via the combined government.

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