Q&A with Jennifer Chenoweth, Human Experience Cartographer

Visual artist and entrepreneur Jennifer Chenoweth is the creator of XYZ Atlas, a hedonic map that portrays the feelings, stories and life experiences of people living in and visiting Austin, Texas. By asking people where they had their most significant emotional experiences, she created a topographic map of emotions of a city. Jennifer spoke at TEDMED 2017, and you can watch her talk here.

TEDMED: What is your artistic medium?

Jennifer Chenoweth: I consider my artistic medium to be change. I began using art as a way to change me. Each artwork is record of growth, one marker along a path, indexing a moment in time. Now my art embraces change in my community and world, marking a moment in our collective experience. We experience place through the framework of time. I try to observe change, document change, flow with change, facilitate positive change, recognize loss, and create artworks that give people a way to consider change and to be courageous about change. I think of art as a tool that can change someone’s awareness and expand their perception. I also love learning about new tools and mediums, and new technology allows for so many more choices.

TM: How did your work evolve?

JC: I am interested in the creative process as an investigation into something I am curious about. It is a fascinating time to be alive and to be a life-long learner. My art projects and social engagement are a way of spending time investigating without an expectation of any certain outcome. As an artist, I’m free to pursue the paths that most interest me, which is the privilege of intellectual freedom. I allow participants, or my audience’s questions, to drive the direction of my work. And continue the conversation of learning. Art is the universal language. Sometimes it can be used to better relate and describe change.

TM: How do you decide what art projects you create?

JC: I am inspired by conversations that I have with friends and people I meet. When I was hosting community art events in Austin, I was struck by how devoted people are to their home, and I was very interested in learning about how one comes to have that sense of belonging. In order to have a healthy and whole life, which we are all seeking, feeling a sense of belonging to a place or a community is very high on the list, along with safety, access to healthy foods, and the possibility of meaningful work. So I started asking questions that allowed people to share their stories that create belonging to home. As I set out to evolve myself, I learned that we feel self acceptance through connection with others and working with a purpose. I try to check the motivation for my projects to see if they create connection and help people find purpose.

XYZ Atlas
Photo by Jennifer Ramos

TM: How has your work changed you?

JC: I started out in life low on emotional and physical health. I was driven by my own need to survive, then to discover what a healthy life looks like. Turns out, health is similar for most of us: healthy eating, exercise, safety, a sense of belonging, and doing work that has purpose.

Photo by Jennifer Ramos

Though all of our tools are actively evolving, our need for meaningful lives remain. I love to use art as a tool for connection, and a way to document how we experience belonging.

TM: What was the TEDMED experience like for you?

JC: The TEDMED experience was a dream, and I’m not sure which was the best part. There were so many amazing people to meet, unbelievable wows sitting in the audience and hearing the speakers live, and the deep support I received months in advance as a speaker getting my talk just right. TEDMED The experience totally wowed me, and was the reward I needed at the end of a huge adventure. Plus, of course, the location of the event was gorgeous.