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Xavier - Evaluation and Lessons Learned

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Saved by rosepk@uw.ed
on March 1, 2011 at 9:11:02 am
 

Overview of project:

     The purpose of this class and this project was to activate an art work, get visitors to participate in the Henry gallery space in a unique and memorable way, and to connect with the theme of Polyphonica Vortexhibition. Our group was drawn to the Xavier Veilhan sculpture "Xavier" because he is a human figure and is reminiscent of public statuary; these elements seemed to invite participation. We hoped that visitors would be similarly influenced by this piece of art and would happily engage in an activity with Xavier as the mediator.

     Throughout the duration of the project, we observe people's level of engagement, the likelihood of their participation, and their attitude toward the activity. These factors would help us conjecture about the impact the activity had on the visitor's art gallery experience and the effect of 'activating an artwork'.

 

Our measurable goals were:        

     1. Visitors will add their voice to the exhibition by adding words to the sequence.

     2. Visitors will contribute to connections by participating in a continuous photographic record.

     3. The majority of participants will take the Flickr URL with them.

     4. Visitors will visit the Flickr site to see how their word connects to others and see how other visitor's contributed. 

 

Evaluation method:

     Facilitator observation. The facilitator, who was stationed next to the sculpture and was present to answer questions and take photos, used a paper chart to tally the number of visitors, groups, and participants. The facilitator's chart tracked the visitors' levels of interaction (walked by, stopped and watched, asked questions, participated) and their attitude (smiling, laughing, helping others, frowning, or ignoring). This observational method was unobtrusive and required no interviewing. Its faults and errors were due to lack of group consensus on what and how to count before beginning the project. Each facilitator tallied categories in their own way and there was particular confusion about whether groups should be marked as one participation or as though each member of the group was an individual participant. To see the charts, click here: Participation chart for Alphabet Soup with Xavier.Our final and most accurate measurement of participation therefore is the number of photos in the Flickr stream. 

 

Findings: 

     Project participation

  • We did not get everyone to participate. A few people ignored us and the Xavier work, walking past us as though we meant to solicit something.
  • Many more people stopped, looked and asked questions. Of those that stopped, some still walked away without participating. A few people walked away but came back later to participate.
  • Many of the people who stopped and asked questions seemed to be drawn in by the previous participants' photos streaming on Flickr from a nearby computer screen. They often watched it to understand the activity instead of reading the instructions or to clarify our verbal explanation.
  • Many of the participants engaged positively with the activity - the majority smiling and/or laughing. Some even stayed after they had completed their word and photo to see what the next person would do or to see how their photo (once uploaded) contributed to the Flickr stream. 
  • Most participants understood the activity and were able to create a corresponding word, then were willing to have their photo taken (with the understanding that it would be uploaded to a publicly accessible Flickr photo stream).  
  • Of 100 Alphabet Soup with Xavier business cards, 42 were taken on Saturday and 36 were taken on Sunday.  
  • The Flickr site has been viewed 489 times (as of 2/27/2011).  

 

     Project Limitations:

  • The venue's attendance is low and, being on a university campus, the number of people who could have been drawn in as they passed by was dramatically reduced over the weekend.
  • The general attendance was very low on Sunday and may have been due to the fact that it was Superbowl Sunday.
  • The majority of the visitors and activity participants were friends/family of the group members or were fellow Museology students.  They had been personally been invited to the Henry and came specifically to support the project. We were unable to track how many visitors participated in Alphabet Soup with Xavier because they had an affiliation with class members as opposed to visitors who had otherwise heard about the project or those whose visits were unconnected to the project. 
  • Our data collection method was inaccurate and incomplete. As mentioned above, the Xavier group did not communicate clearly about data collecting before beginning the project, which led to inaccurate numbers - especially the mismatched counts of participants and photos. The data collection did not include a way to track which visitor engaged in which levels of participation (if the visitor stopped and looked, did they then participate or walk away; if the visitor participated, did they smile, laugh, help others or react neutrally). This rendered our collection of data regarding level of participation and attitude extraneous and meaningless. Furthermore, as the group member serving as the facilitator was often busy explaining the activity and project, taking photos, or uploading the photos to Flickr, there were times when marking down observations was sidelined or a visitor was simply missed. 
  • There was no individual count for how many people entered the gallery on Saturday and Sunday - the counts provided by the Henry were sumative of four days and inclusive of cafe only attendants. We had no accurate measure of the total number of visitors to compare to our number of participations. 
  • The flow of the activity was slightly confusing to potential participants because of its setup. With Xavier leaning against the wall on his left side, people were confused as to how the word chain should go (normally word bubbles read left to right; the sculpture and his placement dictated that they read right to left). Also, the sculpture's placement in a narrow space and our use of a tripod made the space slightly intimidating and formal looking. Visitors felt like they were intruding on the space or had to be too fully engaged in it (a couple of visitors expressed nerves over others watching or feeling as though they were in the spotlight).
  • The medium of magnetic paint on foam core posterboard was not the most reliable. The strength of the magnetic paint was weak (despite multiple coats) and it was a minor frustration to visitors and the facilitators that some letters would not stick or would fall off easily.  
  • The count for the number of times the Flickr site has been viewed was skewed by the constant streaming of the slideshow in the gallery during the run of the project.

  

Discussion

     What Worked:  

  • The large and colorful alphabet magnets were attractive and familiar to people. They were attracted to the large glass bowls filled with the letters and were generally eager to start finding the letters they needed for their word(s).
  • The computer screen mounted on the wall next to the activity was streaming the Flickr photos. People were drawn in by the slideshow and found that it was both entertaining and served as a good explanation for what they were supposed to do. 
  • In addition to the Flickr stream, we offered visitors written and verbal instructions as to what they were supposed to do. This allowed people to understand the instructions through their chosen format. 
  • Uploading the photos to Flickr frequently allowed visitors to not only see the photo later at home, but also to be able to come back through the gallery shortly after they participated and see how their participation added to the project.
  • Giving the participants and curious visitors colorful business cards with the name of the project, the Flickr url, and a QR scanner code on the back provided a physical connection to the project and allowed them to take it home and/or share it with others. 

 

     What Did Not Work:

  • The speech bubbles looked good but the magnetic paint was weak and did not hold all of the letters. Some would stick but would flip up-side-down or would fall off when lightly bumped.
  • When the visitor had left, the facilitator had to move the letters from the visitor's word bubble to Xavier's to maintain a consistant flow in the Flickr photos. This was often cumbersome, distracting and time intensive but the group decided that it would be too confusing for visitors to follow the string of word connections if the changing word bounced back and forth between Xavier's bubble and the visitor's bubble. The consistent flow of visitors responding to Xavier's bubble became especially significant when visitors began using the Flickr photo stream to understand the activity. 
  • Due to the Xavier sculpture's position, the words had to be read right to left rather than the usual left to right. This caused some confusion that was generally cleared up by watching the Flickr stream. 
  • The facilitation was necessary on multiple fronts: instruction giving, picture taking, letter moving, data collecting, Flickr stream refreshing, handing out business cards, and uploading photos. This was inconvenient and occasionally hectic but was hopefully made the activity more welcoming for the visitor.
  • The camera, tripod and stool made the space look like a formal photograph station. This caused some visitors to comment that they felt like they were on the spot and that they could not think of anything 'good enough' to be put in the blank bubble. 
  • The constant need to replay the Flickr stream rather than a constant scrolling of the photos.

 

     Artwork and Gallery Considerations:

  • Because the Henry Art Gallery follows a respectable code of ethics regarding artwork display and artist intentions, the Henry staff was initially concerned that our project would violate the artist's (Xavier Veilhan) intentions for the sculpture. The group met with the Henry staff and discussed options that would allow this activity and the use of the sculpture as a medium to be acceptable. Once we had established our guidelines - to keep our activity off the wall and openly post/state disclaimers that our project was not part of the art and was only temporary - we were able to work with the Henry and maintain our core concept.
  • Our project was conceived, detailed, fabricated and installed in a very short time period. The Henry staff did not approach us with their concerns until a week before installation which caused unnecessary tensions and stresses. Retrospectively, our group found that it would have been helpful to maintain a direct dialogue with designated members of the Henry staff throughout the planning and detailing phases of the project so that last minute discrepancies and concerns were avoided or significantly lessened.
  • The nature of the Xavier sculpture - the very aspects that drew our group to him as an interactive piece - were of concern from the art gallery standpoint. Given that the sculpture looks like a public statue and is informally posed, leaning on the wall, he is frequently a target for visitors (especially children) to touch. Since we wanted people to be able to take a photo with him, the Henry staff and our group were aware of the need to place a buffer between the sculpture and the visitor. We allowed the speech bubbles to take on the role of physical buffer as well as interactive medium and encouraged visitors to pose expressively with the bubble.  

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