Every year, creative grad students from across the disciplines submit compelling images of their research and scholarship to the Image of Research competition. To accompany each image submission, the creator writes a short paragraph explaining how the image relates to their wider academic work, giving us a glimpse behind the scenes.
We caught up with some of the award winners from the 2020 Image of Research competition to ask them more about their process. Enjoy this interview with Courtney Richardson, a doctoral student in the School of Information Sciences and 2nd place winner in this year’s contest, and then view the video to hear Courtney read her award-winning submission, "Complicating Matters of Cultural-Historical Information Reproduction through Art and Design."
Why did you enter Image of Research this year?
My research emphasizes the visual appearance and physical makeup of information and research, so submitting to an exhibition dedicated to image and research just seemed fitting. Also as someone who practices art and design, yet not directly affiliated with the art department on campus, I wanted to be a part of a larger community of students also interested in displaying their work in a creative and visual way. I began my project in the previous year but decided to submit this year because I felt it was more developed in concept and form. Although it is still in development, it is at a stage where I feel safe to share it with enough context to receive thoughtful feedback from other researchers (artists and non-artists).
What was the process of coming up with your image?
The image itself is a snapshot of an in-progress stage of my artwork/embroidery. My artwork researches and simulates the transformation of historical information as it is altered between digital (i.e. dataset) and physical (i.e. embroidery) forms.
A few guiding questions of my process are: How can information loss and gain be displayed? How does the visual display and physical form of information matter? How do these visualizations challenge our situated understandings about this data and the people it represents? Regarding my actual process, I began the artwork as a digital object.
I first analyzed a dataset by studying names, destinations, and other biographical information included. I then reviewed the source of the dataset, an 18th-century handwritten registry. Due to it being digitized online, I was able to immediately see additional information omitted from the dataset (about the Black Loyalists, the recorders of the registry, and the underlying information system from that period). From that point, I began to ask the guiding questions previously mentioned and redirected the project to visually study the transformative aspects of the registry's data between its digital (i.e. dataset) and physical (i.e. manuscript) forms.
What did you learn or take away from this experience?
Being required to write about my image for the entry helped me to center contextual information about the Black Loyalists that I was initially in fear of losing when displaying the image alone. This experience reiterated the power of display and representation when relaying information. An image of something is unable to stand alone as it is always attached to how it is framed by its author, the knowledge and perception of its viewers, the environment in which it is viewed, and other variables that are not all tractable.
I learned that I cannot and do not want to control how someone views or reads my work. Instead, I am more interested in provoking questions and feelings within the reader. By displaying research in an artistic manner alongside its historical context, I essentially hope to encourage new perspectives and conversations that will contribute to and challenge the research on display.
This interview was conducted by Nic Morse, Digital Media Specialist here at the Graduate College. Nic came to the Graduate College after owning his own production company in town called, Protagonist Pizza Productions and is now working on videos, graphic design, and motion graphics for Higher Education at Illinois.