Community Gardens is a data-driven generative art installation about food and housing insecurity among the student body at NC State.
Data reveals that 9.6% of students at NC State experienced homelessness in the past year. However, most people don't imagine students when thinking about homelessness, so it's been difficult for affected students to be heard.
The central metaphor to the project is gardens. In summer, plants have all the resources they need to thrive. In winter, less so. It's not a fault of the plant that the environment doesn't supply and support them.
Each plant is extremely expressive and representative of the source data. Plants that have staggered stems are anxious, petals that are blown away represent housing insecurity, and berries that are displaced from the leaves indicate food insecurity. There are about 15 different ways that a plant can express the student's attributes.
The main purpose of Community Gardens is to create awareness. People are initially attracted to the installation due to the organic movement and deliberate pacing, and can then scan a QR code to learn about each plant and what they can do to help combat food and housing insecurity.
The technical goal I set for myself was to create a more gestural form of generative art. By using watercolor strokes for the stems and animating them, it appears as though someone is drawing each plant. But it's just an algorithm!
I wanted to localize the installation to North Carolina as much as possible. The plants I wrote algorithms for all grow in North Carolina, and the colors are actually sampled from Raleigh.
I took my camera out for photowalks during my residency and then wrote software that allows me to tag pixels as leaf, bark, ground, and sky. These colors are then fed directly to the installation, creating a sense of familiarity for viewers.