...Ma poi, che cos’è un nome?
Physical Installation for the Milan Triennale Museum
In October 2018, the CDEC Foundation —the most important independent non-profit institution working on documenting the history of the Italian Jewish community— organized an exhibition to present the results of the August 22nd, 1938 Italian census, which was the first direct discriminatory act made against the Jews on a national scale by the fascist regimen.
My team at Accurat and I created a data wallpaper, visualizing data from the 1938 census as an art installation in the main hall of the Triennale Design Museum in Milan.
For decades, Milan’s census documents were considered lost, until 2007, when they were discovered in the archives of the Municipality; they were later transferred to the Cittadella degli Archivi in 2013.
Over the past three years, the Department of Historical Studies of the University of Milan, with the support of the CDEC Foundation, conducted extensive research on the archived documents, crafting an extremely rich dataset.
Accurat was asked to translate this work into an original visual narrative in the main hall of the Triennale Design Museum, where surveyed names, data, and personal information formed a visual shape to recall people’s lives and stories, forever marked by the 1938 census, quantifying the magnitude of the act, and at the same time highlighting singular stories and life experiences.
This large visual installation (filling an entire wall 20 meters long and 5 meters tall) tells the story of the Jews who were surveyed in Milan on August 22, 1938. We translated the names and lives of these people into their "data portraits": micro-illustrations based on information from the dataset of the Jews surveyed in 1938, subsequent procedures of “race verification,” and a database of the victims of the Shoah in Italy.
Working side by side with the team at the CDED Foundation and benefitting from the depth of their research, we decided to highlight the names of the 10,591 Jews who were counted in the census and shape the entire visualization around each name, as a representation of how, once they were recorded in 1938, the lives of these human beings were never the same again.
Each data-portrait runs around, above and beyond each name, depicting their stories and destinies.
From a distance, names become almost indistinguishable generating a pattern which gives the visitor an unexpected but essential point of view based on people’s professions.
Since the portraits are arranged in columns and sorted from left to right by age, colored areas appear clearly, and it’s easy to identify groups of people: students dominate the left side of the wall, retired people dominate the right section, while a complex mix of activities populates the middle part of the artwork.
A secondary wall—measuring 20 meters by 3.5 meters—presents an overview of the parameters’ distribution, and explains the structure of the archive. The visual legend displays the information needed and instructions to read the main wall and is enriched with statistics and details about the dataset, creating a different, more analytic approach to the exhibition.