A mural of colorful geometric shapes brightens the corner of Grand Street and Humboldt Avenue. Painted on Unity Drugs’ red-brick wall, “Moods & Modes” is a data visualization of Williamsburg High School of Arts & Technology students’ and teachers’ daily modes of communication and the emotions that these communications elicited.
Math and data-driven artist Ellie Balk collaborated with the Williamsburg students to create the mural, in partnership with the Grand Street Business Improvement District (BID) and with support from the Walentas Family Foundation.
For 10 days, students and staff tracked their daily modes of communication, ranging from face-to-face conversations to text messages to social media. They then recorded what emotions — joy, anger, sadness, or calm — they felt while engaging in each form of communication.
“Moods & Modes” is Balk’s sixth mural in the Grand Street neighborhood completed in collaboration with the BID and local students. Considering her role in projects as “that of a composer,” Balk “drive[s] [her] compositions by creating specific rule sets and color codes that build systems with which can be read and interacted with by the viewer.” She has worked with students from more than 40 schools across the country to create site-specific artwork and installations. Not only do these creations offer a compelling artistic experience, but the very existence of this work also challenges the notion that data and emotion, or mathematics and art are mutually exclusive.
BID executive director Erin Piscopink believes that “Moods & Modes” aligns with the nonprofit’s mission to advocate for local businesses and beautify the district, enhancing the quality of life for the community. “The students really have the opportunity to change the face of the neighborhood and feel a part of the community in a different way,” says Piscopink of the mural.
Even after completing dozens of these installations, it appears that Balk continues to find fulfilment in this work: “I love that we can bring students outside the school and into the community to make public art that represents their personal experience while adding color and play to the streets of East Williamsburg Brooklyn,” Balk writes in an Instagram post as she reflects on “Moods & Modes.”
Cover Image of Williamsburg High School of Arts & Technology students working on the mural. Courtesy of the Grand Street Business Improvement District.
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