Knowing Everett Ruess is a qualitative data visualisation installation that interprets the personal relationships embedded in the letters written by the 1930s Californian explorer. The work juxtaposes 18 different relationships found in the body of letters, and aims to visualise the varying degrees of conversational breadth and emotional depth found in each relationship. The work aims to develop an understanding about the people in Everett’s life, and to use that knowledge to frame a deeper understanding of the polarities of an outgoing man who craved isolation.
Through a process of analysing 116 letters written over 5 years, an understanding of the various relationships emerged through considering the popularity of the topics discussed and degrees of intimacy in the tone of writing. A baseline was created by considering all the data together, resulting in a base grid that plotted 56 topics of discussion along a horizontal scale of popularity and vertical scale of intimacy. From that base, each line was drawn to pass through the topic points that relationship included, and avoid the ones it didn’t. The width of the line itself indicates how popular that topic was in that relationship, and the depth of the line indicates how intimately that topic was discussed. When displayed, a guide was designed to aid in this interpretation.
Additionally, a small publication was designed to further aid in the interpretation of the work, as well as to provide insight into Everett’s own history, as well as insight into the data analysis process that was undertaken and the results that were found.