Carnegie Mellon University

Center for the Arts in Society

Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences and College of Fine Arts


Body Doubles

“Body Doubles” is an interdisciplinary project that seeks to explore the porous boundaries between our biological selves and our digital “data-doubles” in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Though states, scientists, artists, and engineers have long observed and gathered information about the human body, in recent years, such data is being collected in far greater volumes and utilized and represented in new ways. Facial recognition and biometric systems transform human physiognomy into strings of 0s and 1s, wearable fitness trackers create digital portraits of motion and stillness, robots perform Japanese folk dances, and humanoid avatars populate video games, concert performances, and virtual conference rooms. 

These new forms of bodily representation have generated significant cultural, social, political, and economic questions, and this project will present the work of a range of artists, scholars, designers and engineers whose work engages with these doubles. The performers and designers the project will feature take a variety of positions on the possibilities and perils of these new technological configurations: some see in them the potential to create exciting and novel modes of aesthetic experience and community, while others use their work to mount a critique of the increasing encroachments of the surveillance state. They all, however, grapple with questions at the heart of our current moment: What is at stake—for art, for sociality, for politics—when human bodies are replaced or augmented by their non-human doubles? What might be gained and what is irretrievably lost? They also remind us that the border between the “real” and the “virtual” is in many ways a fiction; the fates of our own fleshy bodies are deeply entwined with that of their data-doubles.