XYZ Atlas


XYZ Atlas is an interactive public art project where people’s emotional experiences can be documented and mapped.

XYZ Atlas began with a survey asking people to locate where they had emotional experiences that create the meaning in their lives, such as “where have you faced your own mortality?”

People answered with a location, and often a story. To the question “Where where you struck by love?” My favorite answer was, “Where didn’t I fall in love? Zilker Park in downtown Austin, on a quilt in the middle of the park. With snacks. Snacks help love happen.” For the question “Where did you feel utter disgust?” The respondent explained: “It was where I watched a man strike his child.”

This is an emotional landscape of Austin. We assigned the answers X and Y latitude and longitude points on a map. We gave the location a Z point “up” if it was a positive experience, and “down” if it was negative. We color coded it to Plutchik’s emotion chart. Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping tools, we created a map of our collective “highs” and “lows”.

Through invitations and commissions, we moved the project all around for over 4 years. We created field maps, scale models and paper surveys. We created a digital platform to more efficiently collect the data. We made big mobile “You are Here” sculptures to get people’s attention to the project.

As we took the XYZ Atlas to 120 events that reached well over 600,000 people in real life, and over 7 million in the media, we got a lot of feedback. So many thoughtful people gave suggestions on how to improve the project, and urged me to think yet bigger. XYZ Atlas is a tool that could affect emotional health and well-being of a person and a community. The XYX Atlas demonstrates that our experiences drive our emotions, our emotions drive our behavior, and our behavior drives our health.

Collaborators: Jennifer Chenoweth and Geographer David O’Donnell

Tool: ArcScene