When I first walked into the concrete floored laboratory Of All the People in the World, I felt I had walked into the underground warehouse of a top secret statistical analysis agency. Strewn across the floor, piles of rice on white papers visually represented people and events. The world’s prison population was piled next to people living in gated communities in the US (approximately equal in number). All the women in the senate ever was daintily scattered next to millionaires in the senate (the millionaires outnumbering the women).
One scientist in a brown labcoat brushed dust off the papers, while others stood behind a counter, busying themselves with calculations. My first impression was that it was a theatrical performance. Actors were playing the characters of statisticians, looking official in order to convince the audience of their authenticity.
As I continued around the room, I encountered a pile of rice with no label. A brisk statistician approached with a glue stick in one hand, and the label in the other. “Here it is,” she said, smiling, and glued it down. We discussed the Cuban population of Florida 2006 (about 1 million) compared to the population of Florida (about 17 million) and the significance of how many Cubans who emigrated to the U.S.A. 1961-1970 have stayed. “I think it’s an interesting comparison,” she said, and left to measure more rice.
It struck me then, that this performance transcends the level of ordinary theater. There is no fourth wall here. There is no need for the performers to create distance from the audience, or to have a false persona of officiality. They are doing meaningful work. The science is real, and the art is in the presentation.
posted by amber bell