Alison Langmead, Department of History of Art and Architecture and School of Information Sciences, University of Pittsburgh
Josh Ellenbogen, Department of History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh
Rich Pell, School of Art, Carnegie Mellon University
Paulina Pardo Gaviria, PhD student, Department of History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh
Isabelle Chartier, Curator of the University Art Gallery, University of Pittsburgh
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
Chelsea Gunn, School of Information Sciences, University of Pittsburgh
Sarah Hackney, School of Information Sciences, University of Pittsburgh
Participating Artists and Designers:
Brandon Amos (Carnegie Mellon University); Heather Dewey-Hagborg; Aaron Henderson; Sam Nosenzo (University of Pittsburgh); Staycee Pearl; Letícia Parente; Steve Rowell; John Tronsor (Department of Studio Arts, University of Pittsburgh); Paul Vanouse
Allegheny City Historical Gallery; Falk Library of the Health Sciences Library System (University of Pittsburgh); Frick Fine Arts Library, University Library System (University of Pittsburgh); Ohio History Connection, Columbus; Josh Ellenbogen; André Parente; Rich Pell
Material technologies such as DNA testing, computerized facial recognition, fingerprint matching, government-issued photo identification practices, and aptitude tests 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, the information that they bring into being can often enjoy a “data afterlife,” one that extends, interrogates, or even betrays its original context and function.Data (after)Lives
investigates the relationship between human perceptions of the self and these tangible procedures that produce alternative, externalized, and malleable representations of the human experience. It illuminates how sometimes humble material practices can create convincing narratives that define a framework within which we produce theories and assumptions about the workings of our world.
The diversity of objects gathered here testifies to the impressive variety of technologies that have been used in modern history to create and augment notions of human identity. At times, as in the case of traditional portrait painting and the Physiognotrace, the procedures strive to individuate by directly recording a person’s appearance, thus producing an artifact that matches how we visually perceive our fellow human beings. At other times, as in the case of Alphonse Bertillon’s nineteenth-century system of anthropometry and current-day computerized facial recognition, while the technique might seem to take its force from creating artifacts that match everyday reality, they instead do something quite different—they replace the original, perceptual object with a numerical or digital counterpart that can be more easily stored and manipulated. In still other cases, any pretense to a match with a perceptual original vanishes, and we confront techniques whose data appear to be independent of anything we see in everyday reality, as in the case of visualizing our DNA.
All of these practices and technologies can be used by governmental or private institutional entities to study or manage populations—quite literally so in the case of eugenics and its techniques for asserting identity—or they can be repurposed by artists to interrogate their function. A number of artists found in this show, from Heather Dewey-Hagborg to Paul Vanouse to Letícia Parente, have all sought to examine and even undercut the smooth application of identity procedures such as those surveyed by Data (after)Lives
The objects and ideas presented within this exhibit explore concepts of individuality, identity, surveillance, the categorization of what it means to be human, and the ways in which we have, time and again, used technical and mechanical prostheses to support or replace the operations of our own minds.