January 2017

Simpson is currently working on a large scale project titled Commonground191 which began soon after the events of 9/11/2001. After ten years the first phase of the project was completed: collection of soil from the 193 UN Member States. The soil will be blended into 196 panels so as to begin a conversation about our differences, similarities and coexistence. After all, the mix is one place the World’s soils rest together peacefully. Until actual production begins, Simpson is studying many subjects to incorporate in the project. Human evolution, tectonic plates, religion, and general statistics such as GDP per capita, birth and death rates, life expectancy and prison populations.

Visualization of information can be an important tool in communication. Graphs and charts can convey thoughts more quickly than the written word. Basic in the human species is the need to communicate. Simpson attempts to capture an image both non-objective and deliberate in the translation. The message is made available only to the inquisitive and vigilant. He refers to his work as social abstraction.


Mass incarceration is not only a problem in the U.S. but the World. As part of my studies for a larger art project titled CommonGround191 I have assembled data from the World Prison Brief published by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research located at Birkbeck University of London. Three data sets are reviewed for country 1) total prison populations 2) prison female populations, shaded in blue 3) prison population rates.

The prison populations of each country are translated visually to glass squares, each square inch equaling 4000 people. For example, Brazil with a prison population of 622,000 divided by 4,000 equals 156 or 12.5 squared. Similarly, female populations are highlighted in blue. Prison population rates are persons per 100,000, translated as bars supporting the glass squares. Each inch equals 25 people per 100,000 people in the total country’s population. For example, Brazil has a rate of 307 or a bar measuring 12 inches. Keep an eye on the bars: the total prison populations might be presented as small glass squares but a long bar displays an elevated imprisoned population relative to the country’s total population.

The material foundation for this piece is made from my micro cement blend. Soil gathered since 2002 from each of these 193 UN member states has been added to the mix. The glass squares seem transparent as those people behind bars around the globe.

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Gary Simpson The World is Flat - Prison Scale


Is a companion piece to the larger 4 foot by 8 foot allowing the viewer to investigate each country’s statistics. I encourage the viewer to engage the subject of incarceration, looking more deeply through the Legend. The United Nation’s Human Development Index (HDI) is included for the viewer to compare the rankings relative to the Incarceration rates. HDI is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and per capita income indicators, which are used to rank countries into four tiers of human development. Do the highly HDI ranked countries have a lower incarceration rate?

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Is also a companion piece. The visual display of information can only be effective if the viewer is quickly engaged. Each square inch of glass on “The World is Flat-Prison Scale” represents 4000 people incarcerated. The flat black grid contains approximately 4000 cells (or people). The broken mirror underneath suggests shattered dreams. Are we reflected as part of the problem or part of the solution? The 42” by 42” platform is also the size of one of the 196 panels planned for CommonGround191. The mud stand supporting the piece is the same design that will allow me to move each of the 196 panels during the 4 month production process. Try and guess what the cross words mean in the puzzle.

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Gary Simpson - 4000 - Cells of Reflection - Cross Words







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