Chloë Bass: Wayfinding Audio Artwork

Audio Artwork Transcript
Chloë Bass: Wayfinding

Chloë Bass
Mollie Eisenberg
Kyra Jones
Jake Lawler
Cate Thurston

Cate Thurston: Welcome to Wayfinding. This audio artwork draws from several sources: landscape architecture teaching guides, quotes from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, United Nations reports on water use and restriction in the West Bank, Google and Yelp reviews of the Skirball Cultural Center, reports from the National Institutes of Health on aging and disorientation, as well as on the impact of GPS use on long-term navigation, and personal narrative. It also incorporates many, although not all, of the phrases that artist Chloë Bass has installed on her own signs around the Skirball’s campus.

Chloë Bass (CB): Wayfinding.

“It would be good to have entertainments and ceremonies that were not meant to distract us but to remind us of everything all at once.” — Bernadette Mayer, Utopia

Mollie Eisenberg (ME): Wayfinding is the organization and communication of our dynamic relationship to space and the environment. Successful design to promote wayfinding allows people to: (1) determine their location within a setting, (2) determine their destination, and (3) develop a plan that will take them from their location to their destination. The design of wayfinding systems should include: (1) identifying and marking spaces, (2) grouping spaces, and (3) linking and organizing spaces through both architectural and graphic means.

There are five primary architectural wayfinding elements: (1) paths/ circulation, (2) markers, (3) nodes, (4) edges, and (5) zones or districts.

An early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is the inability to find one’s way (wayfinding).

Kyra Jones (KJ): K J., Orange, CA
2 photos

Came here for the first time on a Sunday, arriving at about 12 noon. Easy to park right off the 405 freeway at the exit of the same name (Skirball). Parking is free but located in a structure at the far end of the property, so drive following the signs, noting that the first parking structure is for disabled parking only (this means you can not park there if you do not have disabled parking so don't try it). Elevators in the public parking lot take you to the main entrance, where you must get in line to purchase tickets (I got scolded for not noticing people lined up far to the right of the ticket booth). I got my second scolding from a patron when I stood too close to an exhibit for her liking. And I got a third scolding when we were told to wait for the story teller to finish telling the Noah's Ark story before entering the Noah's Ark exhibit. I have never been scolded so many times at a museum before! Despite what I think is poor signage/traffic flow I enjoyed all the exhibits, learned a lot but especially enjoyed the Noah's Ark exhibit with animals made out of recycled items including shoes, musical instruments, catcher's mitts, crutches and other items. Very clever! We did not try to dine here as the cafeteria is closed. The gift shop is very nice and overall if I had kids or needed to buy stuff for kids this would be a great place to go for Holiday shopping! Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, it is open Wednesday to Sunday - and wasn't very crowded even on a hot Sunday afternoon. Worth a visit, even with the scolding.

Five Stars

CB: Topography, noun: a detailed description or representation on a map of the natural and artificial features of an area; a set spatial moment meant to represent a landscape that is otherwise moving; a snapshot. See also: family photographs.

How much of love is attention?


“The circulation system is the key organizing element of a site or building. People use circulation systems to develop a mental map.”


CB: A single instance is an example of nothing. The minimum to define a pattern is three. Yet somehow we are primed to recognize exceptionalism and struggle to see at the level of daily behavior.

Jake Lawler (JL): Over 80% of the LADWP’s water is imported. In response to diminishing supplies due to environmental issues in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta and local droughts, the City of Los Angeles has adopted several water conserving ordinances. Learn how you can make a difference and conserve water. Find out about what is required to do your part, how you can apply for variances, and access quick facts and tips.

CB: I did not know (until I looked) that the symptoms of dementia are partially classified as social: “the inability to recognize common things.” I wonder about the baseline of “common”: What threshold of democracy does a thing need to cross in order to acquire that status? Fifty-one percent? Thirteen percent? The percentage of minutes per hour during a nightly news broadcast?

The problem is: whether treated or untreated, these kinds of symptomatic lapses will eventually lead to death.

The question is whose death: your own, or other people’s? In the case of old age, the answer seems clear; beyond conditions of individual aging, results vary. I hear the only treatment for memory ailments is palliative, designed to minimize discomfort for the patient and those around them. So now I begin to question the boundaries of “around”: What constitutes nearness? How far is too far, even if it’s right next door? I’ve been stuck on this phrase for years: “extending the boundaries of who we call our neighbors.”

ME: The spatial anxiety scale was developed by scientist M.P. Lawton. Lawton (2001) used an Internet-based survey of 240 individuals and found that men tend to employ a spatial survey or overview approach using distance and cardinal directions as if one were reading a map, whereas women tend to navigate using landmarks encountered along the route (turn left at the church). Schmitz (1999) reported way-finding experiments with 32 German adults and suggested that anxiety provides an additional explanation of sex differences with regard to way-finding. Lawton and Kallai (2002) conducted two separate studies of way-finding behaviors among 513 psychology students (from the United States and Hungary). They reported that women's anxiety about finding their way in unknown areas influences the way that they navigate. Lawton and Kallai attributed this anxiety, at least in part, to differences in upbringing where young girls are often more closely monitored and given less freedom to explore than boys at an equivalent age.

CB: Several years ago, I heard a podcast about a new form of disorientation in the elderly: aging city-dwellers who can no longer navigate their neighborhoods because of the rapid rise of new buildings. A kind of gentrification-based confusion induced not by a shift in culture, but by an unpredictable horizon.

I spent a long time describing this podcast to a friend. Later I went back to find it, hoping to use some quotes from the featured gerontology specialist in my work. Despite persistent searching, both on my behalf and on behalf of the friend I originally described it to, I’ve been unable to locate anything.

If you’re certain that something happened, but you can’t find the evidence of it anywhere, are you willing to concede it was a dream?

“In wayfinding, a marker is an object that marks a locality. Markers such as arches, monuments, building entrances, kiosks, artwork, and natural features give strong identity to various parts of a site or building. They act as mental landmarks in the wayfinding process and break a complex task into manageable parts.”

TWO: APHASIA difficulty communicating

CB: Perhaps the problem is that I find so many things perfectly revealing just as they are.

JL: Based on the last number of your street address, your watering days are as follows:

ODD: Mondays and Fridays
EVEN: Thursdays and Sundays

Water use restrictions include but are not limited to:

Watering with sprinklers is limited to one cycle of up to 8 minutes per station per watering day for non-conserving nozzle sprinkler systems (typical residential system), or two 15-minute cycles per watering day for conserving nozzle sprinkler systems.

ALL outdoor watering is prohibited from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

No runoff onto streets, driveways, and gutters.

No watering of any hard surfaces such as sidewalks, walkways, driveways, or parking areas. Hand watering with a self-closing shut-off nozzle on the hose is permitted any day of the week before 9:00 a.m. or after 4:00 p.m.

All leaks must be repaired in a timely manner.

No washing vehicles without using a hose with a self-closing water shut- off nozzle;

Strongly recommend washing of vehicles at commercial car wash facilities (most have water recycling system in place).

Strongly recommend use of pool covers to decrease evaporation.

KJ: Sami Pourgol
1 review
4 years ago
After we got our stickers and were given time to visit Noah’s ark, we got the privilege and honor to speak to Mr. Ellison. He is the security/front person you need to walk past him to get to see the museum. He was very informative &. Very caring for my family. He really made us feel special and I wish there were more people like him.

Five Stars

ME: Integration: a) incorporation as equals into society or an organization of
individuals of different groups.

Disintegration: the process of coming apart.

CB: Every time I’ve nearly been killed I’ve survived it, but that doesn’t mean
I’m out looking for more devastation in order to prove a point.

It’s easy to say “I didn’t know” as an excuse for why something has been stricken from historic record. A gentle reminder that that which is not public often goes unknown/unrecorded, and a trick that’s hard to conquer when it’s also true that so many movements thrive in secrecy.

This is what I want to tell you about the history of here: the introduction of the highway involved machines that accomplished in two years what erosion and natural shift might have achieved in two million. In the absence of self-control, a minute can stretch to contain centuries of disruption.

The history of this site extends at least this far, if not a moment further: you’re in it. There was a day: 8/8/88, and I was alive on that day. And there was a day 9/9/99, and I was alive on that day, too. By the time I thought to recognize it, the number of the year had cast beyond the number of months within it, and I just sat, wanting 22/22/22 and knowing it would never arrive.

In the annals of history, most of the things that made you cripplingly anxious for a brief period of time will probably go unrecorded.

“A node is a point at which subsidiary parts originate. People make decision points at nodes in paths. As a result, nodes should contain graphic and architectural information to assist with those decisions.”

difficulty performing routine activities

CB: When Fedex delivers a package, they need a signature, but not necessarily yours. Anyone’s will do. Which seems strange, until considering how many things are just asking for proof of ongoing existence, anyone’s, just marking that we’re still here. A quarter, anyone’s quarter (or a dollar or a water or a sandwich or a piece of fruit, nothing will go to waste) will do, to prolong a continued shuffling life that works only in service of its own sustainment.

There are the habits we form ritualistically, and then there are those that come by accident. In family life, you try something once, you like it, and suddenly it becomes a thing. Or the routines that happen through forces of marketing: meatless Monday, taco Tuesday, hump day, thirsty Thursday, first Friday, second Saturday, Sunday the day of rest.

But then there are the more insidious repetitions: I thought I was paying attention but it turned out I was ignoring that outstretched hand until ignoring became my only coping mechanism, the organizing force of my day, and the months, and the years, and the decades, and the century that followed. Until the time of ignoring added up to a crisis too big to fix, and then, still alive, we miraculously began the ritual of mourning ourselves.

The thing about living in the same place for a long time is that the mistakes become your own. The cabinet door breaks, and you learn to live with it that way, flapping off-kilter and requiring the second little nudge to the left to stay shut. The tile breaks, and you learn to live with it that way, your foot avoiding the rough patch with an awkward step that quickly becomes automatic. The heart breaks, and you learn to live with it that way —but in that case, you forget, over time, that you ever felt different at all.

You might want so much more than you know.

ME: In 2013, a comprehensive Wayfinding Questionnaire (WQ) was published by a group of Dutch scientists. This new questionnaire was designed to cover a full sense of navigation complaints merged with feelings of spatial anxiety: a combination of actual ability, and affect around ability. In other words, it’s not always so much what we can do as how we might feel about it.

People who take the WQ are asked to rank each statement on a scale of 1 (not applicable to me at all) to 7 (totally applicable to me). I am most interested in statements six, seven, and eight:

6. I can always orient myself quickly and correctly when I am in an unknown environment.
7. I always want to know exactly where I am (meaning, I am always trying to orient myself in an unknown environment).
8. I am afraid of losing my way somewhere.

The Wayfinding Questionnaire is primarily used to assess stroke patients.

CB: How much of care is patience?

“Wayfinding edges determine where an area begins or ends.”

difficulty remembering

Wayfinding problems in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) have been linked to changes within the hippocampus and related structures, including senile plaques, neurofibrillary tangles and neuron loss. These changes have been found to be related to wayfinding deficits that commonly occur even in the earliest stages of AD. Persons with AD have been shown to have deficits in many functions essential to wayfinding, such as learning routes, recalling landmarks, and in remembering the sequence of landmarks in a route. People with early stage AD have also demonstrated difficulty in learning and wayfinding in new environments.

Cues, or pieces of sensory information in the environment, are necessary for effective wayfinding as they help to distinguish one place from another and provide a reference point to remember one’s location.

CB: It’s more difficult than we imagine for resistance to become routine. A certain level of pushback, depending on who you are and how you say it, is useful for the machine to continue: we can thrive on the increased stimulation that comes from mild conflict. A little bit of pushback is enough to catapult someone into power. Your voice gets louder, but your nuance is silenced. Soon, the idea of resistance takes on another cast: the statement of all that’s pushed you up the hill as a kind of ineffective childishness, a heap of labor flailing towards the unknown. The idea that from up here, you can do better than they can.

JL: Functioning, adequate and reliable infrastructure is a necessity and a pre- requisite for the ability to supply water and remove waste. Electricity is a requirement in order to operate this infrastructure, notably wastewater processing, water stations and desalination plants.

CB: I want to believe that bodies can be different without being threatening.
For months, I lived in a house with no windows to the street. I danced around by myself and pretended I was dancing with others. I imagined outside life imprecisely. This is often how it goes when you have a chance to hold yourself apart. Distanced sociality is a dangerous experiment. In the absence of contact, a minute can stretch to contain a thousand ghosts.

Maybe this story is hard for you to imagine because your windows face elsewhere.

Maybe this story is hard for you to imagine because you’re not me.

Some days you call out to the world and all that echoes back is your own emptiness. I want to think of signs as a quiet fight against the myth of useful amnesia. It’s one thing to say we didn’t know. It’s quite another to know, forget, and do it all over again with the silent, deadly understanding that nothing will ever need to change.

How much of life is coping?


“Wayfinding zones and districts are regions (either outside or within buildings) with a distinguishing character that assists in the general identification of place.”

difficulty perceiving the environment

Q: Is there no water stored that we can tap into?

A: While there is water stored regionally, in part due to the heroic conservation efforts of LADWP customers, there is a lack of regional infrastructure to move that water into parts of MWD’s service territory, including LADWP’s service areas and those of five other agencies. As a result, LADWP and other impacted agencies have to reduce their demands on limited imported supplies from MWD. LADWP continues to shore up its local water supply through stormwater capture, groundwater remediation and water recycling.

CB: There are those who are afraid of rage because they have not felt it, cannot imagine something hot as productive, or joyful, or related to anything other than devastation. And there are those who are afraid of rage because they know it, its deep skew, and the vision that comes after. After months of isolation in fear of death-by-germs, to return to the streets to protest death-by-the-state seemed incredibly unnecessary, totally routine, and deeply unreal. Now, the lack of awareness of deep physical and social germs is enough to make me insane.

It’s no secret that I struggle with the idea of forgiveness as forgetting. To remember, and forgive anyway, turns what could be just a moment into a series of acts: life between fallible minds and bodies as a form of long- term commitment and understanding.

People seem astonished when I remember the slightest thing about them. It’s true that to be seen over time brings a certain kind of joy. But after years of being praised for my memory, I wonder if I’m not also being chastised for a lack of compassion.

I know that what I’m saying to you is a risk.
The bigger risk is that I never said it at all.
Or if you look at it a different way, the biggest risk is that I keep saying it forever.

KJ: lil uhura
2 reviews·
15 photos
7 months ago

My sisters and I went to the Star Trek exhibit and It Was Awesome!! When we got there I suddenly got tired. I'm disabled, so I don't have the same kind of stamina that most people have. The staff (in particular the docent posted in the exhibit who offered me a chair and got me a bottle of water while my sister got me a wheelchair) were all so kind and attentive. They truly made a wonderful day for us even better. I'm so grateful.

Five Stars

3 people liked this review.

Graphic information is the most direct way for people to find their location. Typical graphic wayfinding information includes systems made up of text, pictograms, maps, photographs, models, and diagrams. Visitors are required to observe, read, learn and comprehend these systems as they make their way through a site or building.

the loss of ability to initiate activity or conversation

CB:It’s easy to make up stories about yourself but harder to bring them to light. In the voice you offer to another person, suddenly details are missing: the patchy grass beneath a tree that looked like a lush carpet from afar. All the extra words in defense of explanations that won’t take, a smokescreen of language to obscure an important truth: that the story is just a story, and sometimes not even sufficient, fully, to be one. Meanwhile, in the overflow of explanation grows the profound loss: everything we accrued by not giving others the chance to speak.

JL: States are under an obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the right to water and sanitation, without discrimination. That is, States must refrain from violating the right to water and sanitation and must take appropriate measures to prevent, stop and punish any abuse of the right to water and sanitation from non-State actors. In addition, States parties are under an obligation to fulfill the right to water and sanitation, that is, to adopt the necessary measures directed towards the full realization of the right. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) has held that certain minimum core obligations exist under the Covenant to ensure the satisfaction of, at the very least, minimum essential levels of the right to water. These include the obligation to ensure (1) access to the minimum essential amount of water; (2) the right of access to water and water facilities and services on a non-discriminatory basis; (3) physical access to water facilities or services that provide sufficient, safe and regular water; (4) personal security is not threatened when having to physically access to water; and (5) equitable distribution of all available water facilities and services.

CB: At the entryway to the bridge, a woman enthusiastically waves a brown cardboard sign reading Your life matters! As the cars whiz by. Marking the other end of that same span’s curve, a man stares blankly, holding a sign of identical size, shape, and color: Help Me. How much of belief is encounter?

Orientation devices such as maps, site plans, floor plans, building and floor directories are used to help people to develop a mental map of a large complex. This is typically the first level of graphic information given for decision-making in an unfamiliar setting. These devices should help people to determine where they are, where their destination is, and what the best route is to their destination.

inability to perceive one’s condition

Q: What is the plan to ensure enough water for the future?

A: LACWD plans for future water reliability as part of daily operations and water resources regardless of drought conditions. In order to plan for dry years, LACWD is continuing to bank groundwater rights in basins, build relationships and agreements with partner water agencies, and continue to work on infrastructure projects to increase reliability during dry years.

CB: We’re not so different. Like you, I’m perfectly capable of seeing beauty where there is none. How to explain a world where rules are known not through their expression, but through a telling chain of silences? Omission, or lapse, becomes its own vocabulary of expectation and disappointment. Of this time I can already offer a future-apology: we answered every question you presented, but stayed mute on what was never asked.

ME: Once a place becomes familiar to people, whether it is dangerous or not, [. . .] uncertainty decreases. This means that only after your ancestors revisited a territory again and again were they able to relax

CB: In mathematical terms, an integer is a whole number; never a fraction. This suggests to me that what disintegrates is always already made up of wholes, not of parts. Even isolated, we are intact, never broken.

When we suddenly receive a list of everything we can no longer do in the name of maintaining safety, it becomes abundantly clear all the things we always did that put other people at risk. But of course these things were not only risks; they held other meanings too. Later, we will explain: we did not touch one another, and if we could, we clung.


This type of signage guides people along a route to a destination, and is given after they have a chance to orient themselves to the general setting. Most often, this includes signs with arrows and elevator button panels.

the inability to remember the names of people and objects

JL: The ancient history of mankind has been marked by all kinds of crises
caused by the lack of water due to climate changes. Many cultures were able to overcome them, others were unable to adapt and declined. We have to learn from the cultures that resisted and those that succumbed.

CB: It turns out to be true that love can return you to parts of yourself. The challenge is that you never know which parts. I can’t change you, but I can change myself in response to you. If or when that goes wrong, maybe we’ll both have the grace to call it a collaboration. For now, I’m ready to wake, look back at the past, and smile in awe at all we did not know.

ME: “Our findings suggest that regularly using GPS affects spatial memory in a dose-dependent manner—that is, the greater use of GPS, the greater decline in spatial memory over time. The lack of a concurrent decline in subjective sense of direction suggests that this relationship is likely to be causal. Studies in the literature that compared GPS use to other navigation aids, such as maps, suggest that the amount of engagement is an important factor for spatial learning. Indeed, using a GPS renders one less engaged in navigation and less cognizant of landmarks compared to reading a map or navigating without an aid. This is especially relevant in communities where wayfinding plays an important role. [. . .] Too heavy of a reliance on GPS can be life-threatening in situations where the technology breaks down. Future GPS technologies may opt to include landmarks in GPS- guided instructions as a way to reengage users with their surroundings. As Aporta and Higgs have noted, ‘there is a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment in being able to relate fully to the activity we perform and to the environment in which we are.’”

A Little F.
SoMa, San Francisco, CA
1 photo

I had a dream once that I went to a planetarium, and the true meaning of life was revealed to me in 3D on the giant domed screen. For days after, I wandered around, thinking about it constantly. I was sure I'd learned something magical and invaluable in my slumber. And then...I forgot.

Five Stars

CB: How much of hope is forgetting? I’ve been aiming towards a certain type of perfection but the reality is that more beauty is experienced in the immediate, not through clarity. You’ll have to trust me when I say that many of the things I appear to know most deeply, I feel I know by accident.