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Turning New York's Salary Gap into an Interactive Sculpture

Ekene Ijeoma develops 'Wage Islands,' a 3D map of New York City that floods in crisis.

Wage Islands is a 3D map of the New York City that reveals the geographies of access throughout the city, showing access to NYC based on housing and wages. Designed and created by Ekene Ijeoma, the map floods with water to show how severe access to housing based on wages really is. A button moves the physical map up and down in the water and an LCD display shows the corresponding wages and watered areas.

The interactive installation is on display at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in Downtown New York City, alongside a series of 30 drawings, titled Measure, by 30 international architects and artists. The Storefront states that the drawings seek to “find measures, resist measurement, and measure the immeasurable by presenting from the real to the fictional and from the functional to the symbolic.”

The exhibit is thus a heady display of information turned into a healthy experiment in visualizing complex civic issues. These are the types of projects Ijeoma likes to take on. In 2013, he co-designed The Refugee Project, a temporal map that illuminates refugee migrations worldwide since 1975. Wage Islands is in line with that trajectory of using data to tell stories about social issues, though Ijeoma hopes that Wage Islands is more poetic: “I thought of Wage Islands at Re3Storyhack, a 'hackathon for storytellers with a conscience' where creatives and technologists projects were driven by non-profit organizations not corporations,” Ijeoma tells The Creators Project.

“At Re3Storyhack I worked with Fast Food Forward who have been fighting to raise minimum wages for fast food workers to 15 dollars an hour. I thought, what if the fight was framed around access not just wages? I remember thinking of the post-Sandy New York Magazine cover image of Manhattan and how it showed the geographies of access to energy. I wanted to design a big data-driven interactive installation that could give you that same visceral feeling.”

Ijeoma worked in collaboration with a handful architects, engineers, and programmers to make the installation come to life. The process itself could be considered a physical collective bargaining: “Richard Dunks and Juan Francisco Saldarriaga helped with the geographic data modeling. Ryan Whitby and Jordan Taithelped with the 3D modeling and laser cutting. I glued together around 500 laser cut parts for the model. What a puzzle!" He explains, "Gwylim Johnstone, Dallas Swindle, Eric Macneil, and Pepin Gelardi helped with the mechanical engineering, which was the most difficult. It took a lot of trial-and-error to stop water from leaking into the motors. Lastly, Jonathan Dahan and Jonathan Sparks helped with the Arduino wiring and programming." Wage Islands becomes a beautiful example of creating for the common good. It elicits more dialogue around what we consider fair and just. New York City is ever changing, from gentrification and new labor industries. The map is critical of this changing tide. “There’s something about seeing the clear abstracted forms of the city coming out of the dark clouded water, and feeling the concreteness of the message, says Ijeoma. “Every time the ending is the same—inequality in wage and housing/access to the city is a big issue and one that needs more rhetoric.” 

Wage Islands from Ekene Ijeoma on Vimeo.

Wage Islands is currently being exhibited as part of Measure at the Storefront for Art and Architecture, from now through September 19. Click here to learn more about the show.

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