Chloë Bass expands on notions of familial intimacy in her Wayfinding project (2019–22). Taking its title from the architectural term for the design elements that help individuals move through a space, this installation encourages viewers to emotionally orient themselves in a site. Wayfinding was commissioned in 2019 by The Studio Museum in Harlem and installed throughout St. Nicholas Park in New York. In 2021, it was presented at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis, followed by the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles in 2022.
Wayfinding is anchored by five large-scale reflective billboards positing open-ended questions: “How much of care is patience?”, “How much of life is coping?”, “How much of love is attention?”, “How much of belief is encounter?”, and “How much of hope is forgetting?” Like The Book of Everyday Instruction (2015–18), the work is organized into sections. Each section comprises eight outdoor sculptures of varying scales that feature archival images and phrases, which provoke psychological emotions like desire, loss, and anxiety. Though Bass has a background in photography, Wayfinding presents images that were sourced from the New York Public Library’s media collection. When her search for photographs of interracial families yielded minimal results, Bass instead incorporated a selection of images of families of color that she manipulated to portray moments of intimacy. Together with the billboards, these images offer a contemplative experience for viewers. As Bass explains, her sculptures’ reflective elements allow them to “give … back the landscape while also disorient[ing] you within the landscape.” This experience is further amplified by an audio component that situates each iteration of the project within its immediate environment and community. Taking into consideration global concerns like climate and gentrification, the recording draws from a variety of sources—the artist’s writing, reports from the National Institutes for Health, Yelp reviews, and landscape design guidelines—and is narrated by Bass and local artists.
At the same time, Wayfinding speaks to Bass’s personal experience of growing up an only child in New York City surrounded by heavily populated public areas. Reflecting on being alone in these spaces, Bass explains her feelings as combining “the sudden sense of everything as fascinating” with “the strange anxiety between feeling invisible and suddenly becoming aware that you are seen.” The disorienting aspect of the work, specifically the mirrored quality of the billboards, also invokes the confusion of dementia, which Bass’s grandmother suffered from towards the end of her life in 2018.