Death and The Digital Afterlife

Death and our perception on “afterlife” has long been a strong topic and with the rise of the Digital Age; our perception of reality and mortality is challenged. Duality is an analogue notion where digitalisation blurs the line between simulation and reality. In terms of our mortality, theories like Plato’s two Image Making from Simulacrum can explain about our future after death. Does the online presence, a representation of an individual become a copy of the individual? Plato’s Image Making criteria explains this; if the online presence becomes a copy of the original it can either faithfully copy its form to exact detail or distort and dishonestly copy the observable details only. The faithful copy is not applicable, as our social media accounts cannot copy our consciousness. So rather, it can dishonestly pretend to be the original. The representation (online presence) however isn’t a “copy” of the individual; only after the removal of the represented (the individual) it becomes a simulating copy.

All of this process is only possible from the removal of the original copy, i.e. Death. Thus friends and families must use the once representational presence as the simulated presence.

The concept of preservation – To preserve the memories, individuality and personality of the now deceased individual explains why this process from representation to simulation happens. For example, people keep items of beloved ones after they die to either represent or honor them or to simulate them. The simulation part can be from the senses, e.g. keeping their clothing for touch and smell, their rooms intact for visible presence.

Concept to Post-Creation

With the video, I used two “screens” to convey the digital and real worlds in a sequential manner to convey the process of representation to simulation. Although I did not create the actual simulation, I visually illustrated the process in a non-literal yet with clarity. There is no plot or narrative rather a collection of visual images in video format. I decided video format is the best for conveying the process. As this project is based on digitalisation and online presence I felt it was appropriate to use a sequential portrayal where other influences came from like Douglas Gordon’s Play Dead; Real Time (this way, that way, the other way) (2003). The two screens to contrast and compare two videos are simplistic and effective to convey dualism and black and white contrast. Lindsay Seers also influenced my decision of using dual screens and projections. She did a form of split personality feeling to it; she talks about her genetic schizophrenia – The idea of being two people at once.

Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto was also an influence to the concept of blurring the line between machines and humans, two of her three leak categories applies to the theory, Organism and Machine (Machines have become the organism and organisms are becoming like machines – for example, texting can be seen as machines doing a lot of action and the organism “human” doing little action and becoming still) and Physical and Non-Physical (Digitalisation creates a duality of a physical and non-physical objects and blurs the line between both). Even Sherry Turkle’s playing in the MUDs was an influence, her empathetic analysis of online gaming is agreeable. She explains and studies individuals who live virtual lives and in virtual communities.

Originally with the presentation concept to pitch the idea of visually showing digital afterlife as blue luminance lights, it was confusing, my idea did not reflect clearly in the visualisation of using Processing and Kinect. It was merely to entertain the viewer instead of giving off purposefulness and meaning. I was planning on projecting an abstract interactive light display using Kinect, which would have little to no meaning to it with my concept, I was mainly influenced by unknowns Michael Pinn a Processor user and Jin-Yo Mok a digital Media Artist.

So I had to revise the project, I decided that in order to convey something I found difficult to explain I had to be more literal. I used graveyards and digital codes to show this. Simplicity was not a compromise for lack of effort; it was to prevent blabbering, e.g. Thereshold to the Kingdom by Mark Wallinger.

Mark Wallinger’s idea was very simplicity yet effective, so I believe the slowness of the footage works with my concept. Slowness of reality and the fastening pace of digital space. Humans are less active in movement then their technological devices. My footage is not that slow because in order to prevent flickering I had to film in 50fps and slow it down to make it 25fps.

The video is split into 3 parts, Living, Death and After-Death. With the intro of Living, there is a literal representation of a heart beating within the dimensions of the left screen. The static is a transition effect to show reality, there are no smooth transitions. Skulls are universal as representation of Death, the Wellcome Gallery exhibited Death: A self-portrait (2012-2013) that helped me understanding the reality of our demise and horrors, i.e. Spanish painter Goya.

Although most of the reality of Death is perceived with fear and pessimism, a part of that is inevitable, although I desired to capture the silence of Death and the continuation of others like our technological creations, so I decided to keep the footage in full colour. Bill Viola did transitions in life with projection videos similar to my projection.

I previously chose to convey the continuation of the digital world after death with numbers flickering and calculating, in a way we (humans) would not communicate in. However I decided the actual text file code would be a better way to visually show the communication.

In terms of the audio, I did not want a silence projection, so I decided to create an abstract song, which is split into F major (Living) to F minor (Death). It is completely digitally created using GarageBand. As the Death part is silent to reflect reality, the digital counterpart shouldn’t be, so there is a literal reading of the text file code by an artificial voice.

If I had more time with this module, I would explore different shapes and angles to project on to. I would scale the projection larger given the free space and equipment available like screens, boxes and large amount of white planes, however I cannot take the projection with me to work at home.

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