McDermott creating art exhibit out of data from old cellular phones


Michael McDermott, Assistant Professor, School of Art, received $25,000 from the Virginia Research Investment Fund for a project in which he will use images, text, and audio files recovered from old cellular phones to create an exhibit that will be shown at Mason’s Gillespie Gallery of Art. The specific pieces will be determined by what was recoverable from each phone, but the data from one phone will not be combined with the data from another. The files and fragments from one phone will serve as a portrait of the previous owner or owners, while making sure their actual identity is protected.

As for the project’s value, McDermott said: “Each passing day brings new issues of data privacy. Online services are hacked, companies sell information to other companies, and attention is being drawn to just how much information is being collected through our various digital devices. This project seeks to bring awareness to an area that users have more control over, how their deleted information can be recovered and used and how to safeguard that data. The goal of the project is not to create identifiable portraits that point to a single person but to create portraits that the viewer can inhabit and experience as their own. It is to remind the viewer how much information is available even when it is thought to be deleted. Part of the project will also be a guide for best practices of disposing of old devices, especially when the device will be sold or traded in.”

Funding for this project began in January 2021 and will end in late August 2021.


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