Data (after)Lives: The Persistence of Encoded Identity

Exhibition Dates
September 8 – October 14 2016
Exhibition Location
University Art Gallery, Frick Fine Arts Building, University of Pittsburgh
Tuesdays at noon
September 27, October 4 and October 11
Free, no reservations required.


DNA markers, computerized facial recognition, fingerprint matching, identity files, government-issued photo identification, and aptitude tests—material technologies such as these have long established a data-driven landscape onto which humans have inscribed notions of identity. While each of these technical procedures is generally tailor-made to accomplish something highly specific, by virtue of the fact that they produce material traces, the artifacts they create often enjoy a “data afterlife,” one that can extend, interrogate, or even betray their original context and function.
Data (after)Lives investigates the variegated relationship between human notions of the self and these technical and mechanical prostheses that produce alternative, externalized, malleable representations of the human experience.  It illuminates how sometimes humble material practices mobilize and even create these understandings, and thereby establish the framework in which we think the world. This exhibition investigates concepts of individuality, identity, surveillance, how we categorize humanity, historical and contemporary data organization, and the ways that humans have time and again used technical and mechanical prostheses for the operations of their minds.
The exhibition will include examples of historical and contemporary technologies used to produce the data of human identity and the human experience: from a Rolodex from the Los Alamos National Laboratory to a full-sized reproduction of a 19th-century device for measuring the criminal body developed by Alphonse Bertillon. The show will also feature artworks from practicing artists who each investigate the material and data-driven practices of DNA today in their own way.
Data (after)Lives is co-curated by three local scholars: Alison Langmead and Josh Ellenbogen, faculty from the Department of History of Art and Architecture at the University of Pittsburgh, and Rich Pell, faculty from the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University. Additionally, Paulina Pardo, a graduate student from the department of History of Art and Architecture, recreated a historical exhibition of Brazilian artist Letícia Parente, originally shown at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro in 1976.

Design Associates: Jen Donnelly, PhD candidate, Department of History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh; Aisling Quigley, PhD student, School of Information Sciences, University of Pittsburgh

Participating artists: The Center for Land Use Interpretation, The Center for PostNatural History in Pittsburgh, Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Aaron Henderson, Steve Rowell, Letícia Parente, Staycee Pearl and Paul Vanouse. 

Contributors: Brandon Amos, Sam Nosenzo and John Tronsor.

Lenders: the exhibition team would like to thank The Allegheny City Historical Gallery, André Parente, Falk Library of the Health Sciences Library System and the Frick Fine Arts Library of the University of Pittsburgh, the Ohio History Connection, Josh Ellenbogen, André Parente and Rich Pell.
Related people
Alison Langmead (curated)
Aisling Quigley (on advisory board)