arebyte and Shanghai-based Chronus Art Center (CAC) present the online group exhibition For Data You Are, And To Data You Shall Return, which explores ideas surrounding digital death, renewal and reincarnation in the virtual domain.
Through generative, video, and gamified works, the exhibition challenges the traditional boundaries of the online and offline world, showing their interconnectedness through the mediation of the screen. Visitors contribute their data as they interact with the exhibition, leaving a digital footprint that influences their experience and leaves traces for others. This circular relationship between life and technology encompasses both the physical and spiritual dimensions, albeit with a unique twist - the exhibition itself is decaying.
The title, For Data You Are, And To Data You Shall Return, suggests a subtle shift from the non-immortality implied in the original theological reference from the Judeo-Christian Book of Genesis which recounts the divine creation of the world. This concept aligns with Chinese Buddhist philosophy's notion of sheng-si-lun-hui, which ties in to karma's role as social currency in the afterlife. By infusing the interface with a uniquely generative backdrop, exposing the concealed layers of codified processes, and alluding to data as the "dust you shall return to," the exhibition embodies the perpetual cycle of existence.
Over time and across various cultures, the cyclical nature of life is inexorably linked with the process of collecting and transferring data. As visitors enter the exhibition, they unwittingly contribute their data, including interaction patterns and browser preferences. This data is ingeniously harnessed within the exhibition to evoke vibrant data visualisations, offering a unique glimpse into the spectral traces of previous visitors. When users exit the site, they leave behind a digital footprint, a subtle yet impactful legacy comprising information about their frequency of visits, location, and IP address. Gradually, additional data accumulates, forming heatmaps and revealing background code, influencing unique experiences in specific works. This turns the website into a virtual commemorative space for past visitors. At the end of their visit, users can download their personalised data pathway as a reminder of their digital interactions. The exhibition not only highlights how data is collected and manipulated without consent but also encourages contemplation on how the digital space can evolve into a sanctuary for renewal, healing, and the rediscovery of forgotten or suppressed narratives.
The works of XU Haomin and Iris Xiaoyu QU, explore the cyclical nature of data and its connection to the increasing fragility of our society and environment. Rebecca Allen's landscape/enter/life harks back to her 1990s AI system Emergence, creating interactive multi-participant virtual worlds. Crosslucid's Dwellers Between the Waters uses AI for nonlinear storytelling, digesting themes of melancholy, climate crisis, violence, displacement, and capitalism.
Healing and grief simulation through data is seen in the work of Alice Yuan Zhang, Ruini Shi and April Lin. Zhang's Technological Grief Altar offers a space for those mourning the loss of technological entities, moving beyond Western norms and giving voice to unspoken inner dialogues. Similarly, Ruini Shi's FuneralPlay gamifies mourning, immersing visitors in gamified funeral spaces reminiscent of early 2000s web games; while April Lin's film Digital Traces delves into the role of social media and cyberspace in mourning and commemoration, alluding to our perpetual suspension in an endless loading process.
The exhibition also delves into the lifespan of technological objects and their complex relationship with time, decay, and renewal, questioning the cyclical nature of technology's birth and obsolescence driven by commercial pressures. The concept of media persistence and electronic waste is explored through the lens of Zombie Media theory, which emphasises the life and decay cycle of digital entities. This theory suggests that rather than dying, media persist in the form of electronic waste, leaving traces and remnants of disused gadgets and electronics.
For Data You Are, And To Data You Shall Return is a decaying exhibition, gradually stripped down to its code, symbolising the cycle of existence inherent in all things. While it may one day cease to function, it will linger in the cloud, waiting for an inadvertent click and resurrection.
The project forms part of arebyte’s 2023/24 programme The Body, The Mind, The Soul, which questions the complex nature of humanity in the realm of technological progression. The online exhibition is curated by Rebecca Edwards, arebyte curator, and Milia Xin Bi, director of international programmes of Chronus Art Center.
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