Trans-disciplinary art exhibit “Victorian Eyes” to launch in the fall

June 4, 2013
Dean Sandefur (far left) presents award to "Victorian Eyes" team (from left to right: Carrie Roy, Catherine DeRose, Fred Boehm)
Dean Sandefur (far left) presents award to “Victorian Eyes” team (from left to right: Carrie Roy, Catherine DeRose, Fred Boehm)

Carrie Roy, coordinator of the Humanities Research Bridge, is currently collaborating with graduate students Catherine DeRose (Dept. of English) and Fred Boehm (Dept. of Statistics) to create “Victorian Eyes,” an art exhibit that will explore statistical approaches to analyzing Victorian Literature. The project is being launched as a result of the team winning the UW—Madison New Arts Venture Challenge in April.

The New Arts Venture Challenge is a campus-wide competition that encourages UW—Madison students to design innovative projects such as gallery shows or outreach programs. Entrants were asked to develop and present a proposal of their project, demonstrating its creativity, innovation, added value to the arts, and potential for success. Over twenty groups submitted these “venture plans” and four teams were invited to participate in the final round, which took place on April 26, 2013 at Grainger Hall. “Victorian Eyes” took home the first place prize of $2,000, which will help the team create and launch their exhibition. Congratulations to Carrie, Catherine, and Fred on this great accomplishment! The team is very thankful for the support of the New Arts Venture Challenge and stress that the project would not have been possible without the help of this grant.

“Victorian Eyes” exudes the creativity and innovation of the New Arts Venture Challenge and aligns well with the Humanities Research Bridge, which works to promote collaborations across campus. The Humanities Research Bridge aims to coordinate services, resources, ideas, experts, and talents from a variety of places including libraries, DoIT (Division of Information Technology), and L&S Learning Support Services. One of their main goals is to foster a digital research community by building a strong network of scholars, graduate students, and staff. The trans-disciplinary “Victorian Eyes” project fits right in with this mission. The exhibition relies on the collaboration of three seemingly disparate fields of study—literature, statistics, and art. By combining Catherine’s research in Victorian literature with Fred’s knowledge in statistics, interpreted and presented in physical form through Carrie’s art, the exhibition will demonstrate how the three disciplines can work together to convey a message to a broad audience of viewers.

The exhibition will consist of 5-7 pieces of art, each inspired by one intriguing statistical finding from Victorian literature. The art pieces will range from framed printed images to sculptures made from wool or local wood. The plan for each of the pieces is to analyze one of Catherine’s research questions using a variety of statistical approaches provided by Fred, and conveyed through artistic interpretation in Carrie’s works. One of the pieces in progress entitled “Frankenstein’s Frequencies 123” riffs off the frequency analysis of body parts mentioned in Frankenstein, the classic horror novel by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Eyes, in particular, are mentioned the most––one hundred and twenty-three times. The body part mentions serve as the inspiration for the art piece, which will feature a graphic depiction of the different statistical approaches that can be used to analyze word frequency.

The team aims to be as transparent as possible in their research and creative process, so each art piece will be accompanied by a QR code directing the audience to a unique and permanent URL containing more information about the statistics and research question behind it.

In a recent conversation about the project, Carrie said that “Most people’s first reaction when I tell them about it is, “You’re doing… what?” But when I talk more in depth about the ideas and concepts “Victorian Eyes” will explore, they think it is really cool and unique. I think the odd combination of literature, statistics, and art should hopefully be a strength for this project.”

In speaking about the partnership, Carrie said she was “impressed at how open and eager Fred and the statistics department have been about applying statistical approaches to humanities texts. It has been fascinating to get a foothold into their world and I think that the complexities we’ll encounter in this collaboration will offer interesting challenges.” One of these challenges is the endeavor of conveying the intricacies of Catherine and Fred’s research to a wide audience. Carrie believes that the art element will help overcome this challenge. She explained that, “Art can be a valuable tool because it has the unique ability to reach a broader audience…Incorporating art provides a really intriguing motivation for people with diverse interests to connect with the statistical and literary research findings.”

The team hopes that “Victorian Eyes” will highlight the human in humanities, inviting discussions about the role art and statistics can play in computational humanities and how perspectives can shape our understanding of a different culture and time.

Where can you check out the exhibit?

  • Starting this fall, “Victorian Eyes” will be traveling to several venues around campus and Madison, likely including the Science Festival in September.
  • The team is also planning a half day symposium at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery to explore the potentials, quandaries, and synergies making up their trans-disciplinary project.
  • Watch for “Victorian Eyes” in a library near you next spring—Memorial Library is slated to host the exhibit in spring 2014. The team welcomes opportunities to display the exhibition in additional public venues, as well.
  • In the meantime, keep an eye out for an upcoming blog, which will soon be available through the UW Arts Enterprise website, tracking the team’s progress as “Victorian Eyes” comes to life.

Want more information? Know of the perfect spot to display “Victorian Eyes?” Contact Carrie Roy at