If you were to take a walk around the streets of Bochum, a city once noted for its coal mining in western Germany, you would come across small bronze plaques slightly protruding from the sidewalk in front of many houses….
Information-Encoded Quilt Created by iSchool Professor Wins Juried Competition
Rachel Ivy Clarke teaches library and information sciences in the School of Information Studies. She describes her research as focused on rethinking librarianship as a design profession. Her deep interest in design thinking has led to a major collaborative research project on creating future library leaders through design approaches to educating librarians at the graduate level.
Clarke has taken a design approach to research how library catalogs and algorithms can advocate for diversity and expose library users to resources from populations traditionally marginalized in literature and, in another project, how to evaluate and quantify invisible librarian labor in financial terms.
It’s not surprising that her design approach carries over into her leisure time, resulting in textile art pieces that are designed to encode information. Her recent art quilt, “These Colors Should Run,” was voted juror’s choice in the Professional Art Quilters’ Association – South’s 2021 juried show. Clarke says the quilt “represents the (lack of) gender and racial diversity in the U.S. Senate during the 116th Congress (2019-2021).” The blue triangles in the star field each represent a female senator and the red stripes against the white quilted background represents the proportion of non-white senators.
“It was a study/prototype for a larger piece I have been wanting to make covering the whole 230-plus year history of women in the U.S. Senate, using blue fabrics to represent male senators and red to represent female senators,” says Clarke, noting that she has reserved the color purple for non-binary senators but has, to date, found none. “Michele Kaarst-Brown (a fellow faculty member in the iSchool) gave me a huge box of blue fabric scraps, but I could still use some for the larger project.”
The quilt–and many others–became her pandemic projects, since it is something she can do at home and finds is an antidote for stress. It’s not the first time she’s encoded information in a quilt. In 2010, her quilted demonstrations of traditional information visualization techniques, titled “The Visual Display of Quilted Information,” was displayed at the Brewery Arts Complex in Los Angeles.
“Information visualization still motivates me, but I’m trying to push it further by asking what information lends itself to being communicated via textiles–and why? Or how can textiles bring a new or additional layer of meaning to information visualization?” Clarke says. “I’m interested in how people react to ‘hard’ numbers when they are (literally) communicated in soft textiles.”