Exploring Numerals for the 2010 Census
Artist Anita Glesta’s 2010 U.S. Census Bureau project in Suitland, Maryland, commissioned by the General Services Administration
In the lobby of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill’s Census headquarters, Jason Salavon’s backlit abstraction American Varietal (US Population, by County, 1790–2000) turns survey results into glowing ribbons of color. Outside, Glesta’s seven-acre Census installation takes up the most fundamental tools of census work: numerals. A wheelchair-friendly ramp winds its way from 1 to 8, while stairs provide a more direct route. Framing the 1, tile-faced trapezoidal berms reminiscent of Indian mounds pay homage to counting systems ancient and modern: Sumerian, Native American, Roman, and so on. Some of the large Arabic numerals, constructed of stripes of light- and dark-gray brick, function as diversions from the meandering path; others rise to form benches where workers can relax, talk, and read. More tile-covered slabs occupy the pachysandra-covered ramps that slope down toward a sunken walkway connecting wings of the building. One of these panels depicts the full run of numerals, highlighting 9 and 0, this last representing a radical concept indispensable to the history of mathematics. Overlaying the digits are shadows of human figures—representing the uncounted people—reminders of the public purpose all this enumeration is intended to serve. Photo courtesy the artist.