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A collaborative survey & analysis with Nicole Kistler
For the show Personally Public at Crawl Space (R.I.P.), 2007 

Installation view at Crawl Space - displaying our findings
In our parallel (professional) lives, Nicole and I both have quite a bit of experience with social science data collection and analysis - trying to assess subjective things using scientific means, or assigning a value to things like a view of the mountains, quality of life, or an ecosystem. This project applied these same social science methods to art, conducting two surveys and analyzing the data.  

One survey showed people one of two images - a painting in a museum, or a photoshopped image of the same painting sitting in the art section of a thrift store (the pictures in the installation view at right). We asked survey respondents to set a value on the painting they saw.

The other survey was given to three different groups - people at the Pioneer Square Art Walk (outside of SOIL), riders on the Bremerton ferry which connects Seattle to the military town of Bremerton, and students at Aviation High School where we had been teaching a high school class.  This survey asked people what they thought of art and where and how often they looked at it (below).

By designing surveys about something that is personal, subjective, and difficult to categorize, we were able to expose some of the inherent difficulties in the survey process - the forced choices, question wording, and categorizing that not only can signal poor survey design, but outright manipulation. As our society has become more and more obsessed with data collection, polling and surveying to make decisions, it has become common practice to design a survey to get the answer you want - leaving us all data rich and information poor. This was reflected in the chaotic 'punk rock science fair' presentation of the results of our analysis, shown at right as installed at Crawl Space Gallery in Seattle.  

The act of giving and taking a survey is a public act and a personal one. In answering survey questions, the respondent must make a number of decisions - whether to be straightforward and cooperative no matter how unsatisfactory the choices are, or to be noncooperative or answer untruthfully. It's also an act of trust - that the information you give is not going to be manipulated or tabluated in a way that you did not intend.

The surveyor is in the uncomfortable situation of being the face that no one wants to see coming their way, and having to establish a nearly instantaneous trust or rapport with their potential respondents. For the surveyor, tabluating and analyzing the data is the private act - one that is fraught with unanticipated questions, judgement calls, and follow-up questions that you can never ask.

Installation view at Crawl Space

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