Structuring Decomposing Bodies


Structuring Decomposing Bodies

Working on Decomposing Bodies over the last month and a half has been an exercise in process. Shortly after the start of the semester, the Data (after)Lives show went up, featuring data from DB, some of the physical Bertillon cards and exploring many of the same ideas that we confront in DB every day. Data (after)Lives was a great way for me to see what Decomposing Bodies is as a concept, but since then, most of my work has been examining and manipulating it as a structure.

Since DB has changed hands several times over the past few years, a lot of what I have been doing is following the threads of my predecessors, trying to understand their processes, the choices they’ve made, and their relationships to the thousands of image files that truly compose the heart of this project. For every task that needs to happen to construct the dataset around these images, and to make that data available to researchers, there are dozens of tiny tasks that have to take place. Tasks from, “mark which files have been uploaded to Omeka” and “transcribe the handwriting on the cards into metadata fields” all the way to “defrag the hard drive” and “back everything up.”

Let me be honest, visual media isn’t actually my area of expertise. Or even my research interest. But! The way people collect, label and organize things is. In case you couldn’t guess, I am a PhD student at the iSchool, rather than in Art History. For me, Decomposing Bodies is an interesting blurring of observing and contributing to how resources get organized and disseminated. I am finding gaps in documentation— what does tag “pass1c” mean?— and creating my own protocols for the project going forward— it means the “Age”, “Apparent Age”, “Born in”, and “Complexion” fields have been transcribed.

Everything that the VMW does with DB is in preparation for other people to do something else with it later. We have to try and answer questions about how imaginary potential future researchers will want our data to be formatted, and what kinds of questions they might want to ask. The Data (after)Lives exhibit is the beginning of presenting those questions, and inviting conversation around what it means that these cards exist in the first place. My work, for now, is about making sure that those conversations can continue, and that all the pieces of this project are speaking the same language.

  • Decomposing Bodies
  • Graduate Work
  • VMW