. . . field reports from a creative catalyst in the Pacific NW

data driven portraits: the quantified selfie


Untitled, by Weidi Zhang

The notion that the grand scale of humanity is connected on the cellular level. In its visual and poetic language, a key function of art is to present a portrait of the “self” in relation to the time and place in which we live. 

–  Jane Chin Davidson, Art Historian

In the Spring of 2012, I received a 2012 4Culture  Independent Artist Grant for a public scholarship workshop I developed called: Data-Driven PortraitsThe inspiration for this workshop came from the curatorial work that I did in partnership with artist Geraldine Ondrizek, genetics counselor, Robin Bennett and art historian, Jane Chin Davidson from 2009-2011. Upon receiving my 4Culture  grant,  I reached out to  UW School of Art professors, Ellen Garvens and Susie Lee to partner on a workshop for their Advanced Photomedia students.

This 2 Day workshop allowed me to share Ondrizek’s research-based practice and facility with scientific methods and processes with the students. We explored the nanoscopic-macroscopic scale spectrum that Ondrizek navigates in her work. The focus of Ellen and Susie’s Advance Photography class was on Performance, Embodiment, Engagement, Collaboration and Installation….so it was a perfect platform for such experiments. Some of the background readings I provided included excerpts from: The Molecular Gaze: Art in the Genetic Age (1st chapter) (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press Series on Genomics, Bioe) [Hardcover] Suzanne Anker (Author), Dorothy Nelkin (Author) and Technogenesis: Aesthetic Dimensions of Art and Biotechnology, Suzanne Anker, Susan Lindee, Edward A. Shanken and Dorothy Nelkin.

We explored “personal data”…and what that means in this data driven culture. I gave the students a prompt to create a process in which they had to find, form and and express some form of personal data. It could be visual, performative or both. Below are some of the student works presented on Day 2. The processes they created were thoughtful and sometimes elaborate…and some deeply personal The results were exquisite.

Untitled, Weidi Zhang

Untitled, Weidi Zhang

Untitled, by Weidi Zhang: “literally I cut my hair and drop them down to the ground spontaneously. I photographed them and drew little black varying dots on the points. I was trying to make the indefinite space visible through these points. I am interested in looking at the physical data of myself in different ways. In these photos, the data is a space created by myself instead of the information or statistics. My favorite artist Antony Gormley said our body is the place where emotions are most directly registered. When we feel frightened, when we feel excited, happy, depressed somehow the body registers it. So for these images, I do not want to treat them like a documentary photos of my cutting hair. I tend to make them more like the personal and emotional images which can give viewers a sense of space and time. ”

29:2846.555.8882928, 46.5, 55.8, 88, Nicholas Stefan Strobelt

“The first image is of me breathing normally for two minutes – twenty–nine inhales, twenty-eight exhales. The second image is of me spinning in place for two minutes – thirty-six clockwise rotations.The third image is of me dressing and undressing myself in two minutes. The fourth image is of me pacing back and forth, in and out of the frame for two minutes – one-hundred and twenty-eight paces.”

“Our assignment was to interpret our notions of “personal data.” With that in mind, I spent a few days thinking of the different ways we collect information and how even mundane actions like breathing or getting dressed are forms of data that are produced by everyone differently. I settled on collecting my data on 4×5 negatives because I liked the idea of having a tangible reference of the process of data collection in a single place. I created the images in a blank studio space so as to keep the focus of the project on the data I was presenting and my method of presentation. In short, each image refers to a different method of data collection. Within a set time limit of 2 minutes (a control of some sort) I performed four different actions.”

Nicholas Stefan Strobelt

Sorry, I’m not Sorry, by Erin McGraw

“4 1/2 years ago, I became suddenly and extremely ill. It turns out that I had Lyme disease, viral meningitis, and mononucleosis all
within the span of 2 weeks. The lasting effects were devastating, and
it took me about 3 years to recover to where I am today. I still
experience lapses every several months, which affect my immune system,
energy, and brain functions. The worst of it was in my last two years
of high school, in which I was still determined to graduate on time
amid missing months of classes at a time. I was in constant contact
with my teachers and counselor, and have saved all the emails from
that time.

I’ve recently realized how much I apologize on behalf of my health
problems (which is, of course, the socially polite thing to do). I
feel guilty for missing classes, and insecure about other people’s
understanding. I’ve realized that what I’m doing is accepting
responsibility for something that isn’t actually in my control (no
matter how much I wish it was!). I went through all of my emails, and
counted each time I’ve said “sorry” regarding my health. The magic
number: 174 times. Grateful that it wasn’t a prime number, I created a
perfect grid of 174 “sorry”s, 6×29. Near the bottom, one is in red and
slightly out of sync so that it stands out after looking through the
wordscape for several seconds. This “sorry” is the true and ultimately
contradictory apology – I’m sorry for not being sorry. In other words,
a sort of admittance to myself that I don’t actually have control over
some very important aspects of my life.

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This entry was posted on June 27, 2015 by in Uncategorized.
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