Re:Constructing Evidence

Friday Sept 20th – Friday October 25th

Reception Friday October 4th at 6pm

Re:Constructing Evidence explores the role of evidence and practices of evidence construction – both physical and digital – in public controversies and civic life. The exhibition features four case studies focused on climate change, preservation, assumptions in data analytics, and the construction of breaking news narratives. Rooted in discourses of architecture, journalism, media art and
environmental humanities, these projects illuminate common themes around memory, community, social and scientific practices. Echoing the iconic 1977 “Evidence” show by Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel, this exhibition explores the tensions between traces and their latent, emerging narratives.

Digital media and machine intelligence have complicated the deceptively simple idea of factual evidence. The concept of ‘raw’ data, often used in disciplines such as data science and artificial intelligence, which regards data as unformatted, unprocessed, pre-analytical entities, edits out the context for data creation, including the knowledge that is required to collect data and the ways that data is shaped by certain socio- technical systems, such as database structures, sensors, and data entry forms. Datasets, images, and online interactions can be manipulated without leaving revealing traces. Consequently, they are often weaponized for disinformation and biased narratives. Meanwhile, news narratives coalesce faster than journalists can verify and contextualize details.
Years of controversies around political and environmental issues have led to cynicism and confusion surrounding the concepts of evidence and truth, leaving many people to either yearn for an abstract ideal of supposedly lost objectivity or to give up altogether on the idea of attainable truth.

The erosion of facts is not a problem of digital disruption, but, to some extent, the product of a mindset that assumes digital information to be abstract, immaterial, and independent from a physical world that is considered unambiguously factual. The works in this exhibition show the complications and inherent contradictions of such a dualism by focusing on the materiality of data and its consequences for public discourse. They reveal digital media as a material phenomenon that leaves traces, if one only looks close enough. Physical traces, on the other hand, are not to be
equated with factual evidence; they are often misleading, ambiguous, and depend on the skilled eye of the beholder. Through case studies from urbanism, artificial intelligence, recent journalism history, and environmental pollution, the projects in this exhibition investigate the constructed nature of evidence — construction not as an arbitrary process, but as a form of collective sensemaking.

Computational Fables by Jennifer Gradecki and Derek Curry is an interactive video installation where participants chose between different video compilations to see the kinds of stories that data analytics companies tell about their products. The videos, which are algorithmically generated from a collection of data analytic companies’ promotional videos, showcase the frequently occurring images and metaphors.

ozone tattoo by Dietmar Offenhuber is an artistic research project to measure ozone pollution through indicator plants. ozone tattoos are reference patterns of ozone damage on plant leaves that help recognize ozone damage on the rest of the plant.

Salvage Units by Ang Li is an architectural installation that explores the material afterlives of modern consumption. Using expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam diverted from the landfill, the exhibition presents a monolithic building block whose form recalls the material systems of the waste-processing industry. The piece draws from the inventory practices of salvage yards and recycling centers – the stockpiling of trash into provisional units of bales, skids, and ingots – to illustrate the vast economies of scale associated with the redistribution of waste.

Breaking by Meg Heckman focuses on the April 19, 1995 Oklahoma City bombing as it was the first major news event many Americans followed using the Internet. Because of spotty digital archiving practices, there are no known visual records of how stories, photos, and other content appeared online in the hours and days after the tragedy. The installation attempts to fill that gap by using interviews with journalists from USA Today and The Washington Post to recreate the online news they produced on that deadly day. It also ponders the media consumption experiences of the nascent digital audience.


About the Artists:

Jennifer Gradecki is an artist-theorist who aims to facilitate a practice-based understanding of socio-technical systems that typically evade public scrutiny. Using methods from institutional critique, tactical media, and information activism, she investigates information as a source of power and resistance. Her investigations have focused on Institutional Review Boards, financial instruments and, most recently, technologies of mass surveillance. She holds an MFA in New Genres from UCLA (2010) and defended her dissertation in Visual Studies at SUNY Buffalo in April 2019. She is currently an Assistant Professor at Northeastern University in Boston.

Derek Curry is an artist-researcher whose work addresses spaces for intervention in automated decision-making systems. His recent work has addressed automated decision-making processes used by automated stock trading systems and Open Source Intelligence gathering (OSINT). His artworks have replicated aspects of social media surveillance systems and communicated with algorithmic trading bots. Derek earned his MFA in New Genres from UCLA’s Department of Art in 2010 and his PhD from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 2018. He is currently an
Assistant Professor at Northeastern University in Boston.

Meg Heckman is an assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern University where she produces both journalism and academic research that explores the intersection of gender, technology and journalism. Her goal is to better understand journalism’s past, present and future, and to cultivate a diverse, inclusive media ecosystem.

Ang Li is an architect and Assistant Professor at the School of Architecture at Northeastern University. Her research and creative practice operates between the fields of architecture
and historic preservation to investigate the maintenance practices and material afterlives of the contemporary building industry. Her work ranges from public installations that engage the indexical agency of building materials to collaborative research centered around the development of interactive architectural archives. She holds a Masters of Architecture from Princeton University and a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from the University of Cambridge. Prior to joining the faculty at Northeastern, she was a Visiting Artist at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Peter Reyner Banham Fellow at the University at Buffalo.

Dietmar Offenhuber is an associate professor at Northeastern University in the areas of information design and urban affairs. He holds a PhD in Urban Planning from MIT. His research focuses on the relationship between design, technology, and urban governance. Dietmar is the author of the award-winning monograph “Waste is Information” (MIT Press) and has published books on urban
data and related social practices. He also works as an advisor to the United Nations Development Programme.