UT alum and local artist Jennifer Chenoweth creates “Hedonic Map of Austin”


Jarrid Denman

Jennifer Chenoweth stands next to her artwork, “Hedonic Map of Austin,” in the Seay Building on Monday evening. Inspired by Robert Plutchik’s wheel of emotions, Chenoweth’s numerous works engage viewers by incorporating their responses to questions about where they experienced different emotions into interactive maps.

Alexandra Dubinsky

Plenty of people have made maps of Austin, but local artist and UT alum Jennifer Chenoweth made a map that takes personal experience into account.

After graduating in 1999 with a Master of Fine Arts, Chenoweth started thinking about her intense attachment to the place she had called home for the past 18 years. What began as self-reflection soon lead to a 13-year artistic journey into the psychology of emotion. 

“The project started with thinking about how we find an attachment to place,” Chenoweth said. “We love Austin. People are always like, ‘Don’t ever say anything bad about my town.’ And what is it about here that gives us such a strong emotional attachment?”

Chenoweth’s collaborative project, “Hedonic Map of Austin,” is a 3-D interactive display that maps emotional experiences throughout Austin. The theory behind the map is based off psychologist Robert Plutchik’s psychoevolutionary theory of emotion and his color wheel. Through a 20-question survey, which 115 people answered, Chenoweth was able to identify specific locations where Austinites felt their highest highs and lowest lows and worked with data imagists to create the map. 

“There are a lot of places where people get really, really intent upon having had an emotional experience, and they get really into that location, and that forms an emotional bonding over place,” Chenoweth said.

Ranging from mortality and vitality to love and loss, the survey is a series of 10 positive questions and 10 negative questions. Examples vary from “Where did you fall in love?” to “Where did you feel deep sadness?” 

According to Chenoweth, patterns emerged from the data suggesting where Austinites experience the most and the least joy. Not surprisingly, residents confirmed their love for Barton Springs and asserted their negativity toward I-35. 

“Some people only answered the positive questions or only answered the negative questions, which I thought was kind of accurate for humans,” Chenoweth said. “Reflection caused kind of a road block in getting answers.”

The installment is being displayed in the southeast entrance of the Seay Building from now until August. Tamara Kowalski, communications coordinator for the psychology department, said the project was especially fitting for the field because the study reaches out to encourage students to participate.  

“We are really excited to have her art work in our department, and we felt the need to be a part of her project that has to do with interviewing people and asking how they feel about things,” Kowalski said.

James Pennebaker, psychology professor and department chair, said Chenoweth is one of a handful of people integrating an element of art into psychology research.

“The nature of art is to challenge it,” Pennebaker said. “[Chenoweth’s] work brings together basic research of people’s experiences, moods and perceptions, and ties them to geographical locations. By doing this, she brings together really interesting science with a visual display.”

Chenoweth is also the founder of Generous Art, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting visual artists and its communities, and the primary hostess for the East Austin Studio Tour. When Chenoweth completed her own survey, she was surprised at how her emotional experiences formed within such a short radius of space.

“[It showed] how I am really attracted to my immediate world and that my significant memories surround me in such a densely populated area,” Chenoweth said. “Home is an adventure for me, and that’s what I feel about Austin.”