FDM: In the Garden

June 19, 2015
– By Victoria Edsell

In the Winter and Spring quarters of 2015, the Hammer Museum partnered with UCLA’s Digital Humanities Program to offer a course about the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden. The course, taught by the Hammer’s Project Manager for Digital Initiatives Philip Leers, tasked students with researching the history and import of the Sculpture Garden and creating digital platforms to communicate that research. We asked the students to write blog posts describing their final projects and are proud to present the results of their hard work.

In 1967, UCLA Chancellor Franklin D. Murphy attended the dedication of the sculpture garden which bears his name, the culmination of a years-long transformation of a dusty lot into a beautiful public art space. The sculpture garden served, and continues to serve, as a reflection of Murphy's passion and vision for the UCLA campus as an environment permeated with art. Murphy described his philosophy in a 1976 oral history: "I've believed that a university campus ought to be a good deal more than just efficient and functional, that it ought to have beauty in it; because I think that young people should be encouraged to grow up in the presence of beauty."

In January of this year, l had the opportunity to take a course focusing on the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden, offered through the UCLA Digital Humanities department and taught by a staff member at the Hammer Museum. I knew I needed to be a part of it.

With my background in Anthropology and Theater, I decided to use on-site observation as my approach to understanding the garden and its visitors. Viewing the garden as a stage on which visitors were performing, my goal was to use observation to help fashion a tool that promotes participation in the garden, in a way that organically fits how visitors are already using the space.

After a few months, I began recognizing the patterns in the "performances" of the guests I was watching: I saw students reading and studying on the grass; saw dancers and other performers from the nearby arts buildings use the garden as a practice space; and saw visitors relaxing, decompressing, and napping between classes.

Screenshot of FDM: In the Garden desktop application prototype, Victoria Edsell, 2015.

These observations led me to develop a mobile app, called FDM: In the Garden, that will combine information about the sculptures and sculptors in the garden with creative and restorative activities, by presenting users with a daily challenge meant to educate, motivate, and rejuvenate. FDM: In the Garden will challenge users to experience the Sculpture Garden actively and creatively, through artistic practice and meditative exercises. The data content is currently organized on ESRIs Storymap Host, and can be accessed on the web and with mobile phones.

Screenshot of FDM: In the Garden mobile application prototype, Victoria Edsell, 2015.

How does it work? The application leads the user to a particular sculpture by a location marker on a map of the garden. Once there, they are prompted to explore the space and learn more about the sculpture through dynamic interaction. They may be asked to make a sketch, take a selfie, or practice a yoga pose, the activities underscoring some aspect of the sculpture or sculptor being featured. My hope is that this engagement will promote reflection, creativity, and both mental and physical well-being.

Franklin Murphy’s vision did not end with the completion of the garden; the space has continued growing and evolving since its dedication. FDM: In the Garden allows any user to connect and interact with the Sculpture Garden, and to play a role in that evolution.