As an artist and designer, I deeply enjoy unexpected invitations into other people’s projects. When my friend and co-thinker Abhishek Viswanathan invited me to join PittSensing, I was delighted, if a little apprehensive, about how I would contribute. Through PittSensing, Abhishek, Dr. Amy Babay, and Dr. Rosta Farzan created an ad-hoc network of Pittsburgh locals to gather, share, and discuss air quality data captured by low-cost sensors, like the Smart Citizen Kit. In several workshops, these community scientists combined sensor data with personal anecdotes to tell compelling stories about the breathing context of Pittsburgh’s Nine Mile Run Watershed.
As a researcher, Abhishek understands that quantitative data becomes meaningful to the public through storytelling. Narrative and language infuse data with the spatial-temporal embodiment of lived experience, otherwise known as our bodily senses. With this understanding, he applied for research funds from Year of Data and Society for a creative response to PittSensing by a community artist. So here I am, connecting scientific inquiries to my poetic ones, adjusting my antennae and scribbling down notes.
Embedded presents the triangular, idiosyncratic relationship between myself, my Smart Citizen Kit ("r0wdy") sensor, and the apartment we share in Pittsburgh's Friendship neighborhood. Using a set of four window cling posters, I juxtapose my diaristic writing about topics like my health or environmental news, glitched photos, and r0wdy's data visualizations from the SCK online platform against each other. Arbitrarily titled after measurement units—decibels, particulates, lux, and degrees—the posters resemble PowerPoint slides run amok, a nod to academic presentational forms. R0wdy joins these posters so viewers can watch as it gathers and transmits real-time air quality data captured from the exhibition site. My hope is that as a modular and easy-to
-scale installation, Embedded can travel to community settings (“breathing contexts”) beyond academic institutions.
Embedded has been an opportunity to examine my connections to home, land, breath, and extraction through the prompting of sensor data. I’ve invoked land in my past work in terms of first-generation identity, as a picturesque backdrop, and as an improvisational partner. Home is currently a settler-colonial urban fantasy called Pittsburgh, set in the confluence of three rivers called the Monongahela, the Ohio, and the Allegheny, and nestled amongst mountains called the Appalachians. Separate from, but part of a shape called Pennsylvania, drawn from hoarded lands called The United States of America. What does gratitude to the Osage, Monongahela, Shawandasse Tula (Shawnee), and other indigenous people look like? Could data gathered by r0wdy ever tell me?
Petra Floyd (she/they) is a queer first-generation Liberian-American multidisciplinary artist and designer raised by working-class immigrants in Philadelphia, and she lives and works in Pittsburgh. Petra makes whatever she wants, however she wants, ideally making herself laugh throughout the process. Petra values improvised, devised, and collaborative modes of making and thinking. They link up with other instigator-activators to craft small moments and performances using close-at-hand materials and resources. Petra dreams about group movement and gameplay spaces for self-reflection and expansion. They make sounds, videos, drawings, and performances happen, with feeling.
Petra received a BA in Studio Art from Swarthmore College in 2012. They earned an MFA from Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Art in 2022, where they received a Lea Simonds graduate fellowship, project funding from The Frank-Ratchye Fund for Art @ the Frontier, and the inaugural Ken Meyer Professional Studio Development award. Petra is a BLK ART LAB artist-in-residence at Pittsburgh’s Protohaven makerspace and a 2022-2023 recipient of The Pittsburgh Foundation’s Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh and the Heinz Endowments’ Creative Development awards. They have been a Freshworks artist at Kelly Strayhorn Theater (2021), a resident artist at 40th Street Artist-in-Residence Program (2016-2017), a Fob Holder at Second State Press (2016), and a Post-college Apprentice at The Fabric Workshop and Museum (2014). Petra’s solo exhibition Before the DJ Was Sound, and She Played It will be on view at FJORD gallery in Philadelphia from March 11 – April 22, 2023.