Interdisciplinary Conference


in Art & Science

26-28 November 2020, University of Applied Arts Vienna/Online

160. Becoming Less and Less with No Relief
Session: Session "ORF7b / Index"
Speakers: Remina Greenfield, Shuyi Cao

What is allowed to live and what is left to die? Who controls this decision

The question of life and death has expanded beyond the physical realm and into the digital domain. From aggregated consumer profiles to lingering Facebook memorials, our identities and behaviors are surreptitiously collected and compulsively preserved by digital monopolies, while elements that serve no consumer purpose are hidden, selectively deleted, or subjected to “link rot.” Our “data body” is cultivated by forces of surveillance capitalism and used to control future behavior, perpetuating a life cycle of objectification and manipulation. 

In contrast with the reality of these extractive and accumulative processes, the illusion of momentary, immaterial existence becomes pervasive in our social infrastructure, through metaphors like “the cloud.” We reject these myths and investigate the real decomposition rate of data as it relates to our digital existence. 

We want to escape the omnipresent machine gaze and retrieve the agency of our biological existence - from our individual bodies to the planetary body. Our way out is to decompose. We see digital decay as an essential ecological component of the digital ecosystem that should be open to everyone. We aim to introduce decay into computational language as an inherent function that is transparent to users. 

In previous experiments, we used video and photographic documentation of decay processes to train machine learning models. We want to teach machines about processes such as molding, fungal colonization, biofouling, etc. We plan to develop our own computer programming language that uses these machine models to execute similar functions on data – data.mold, data.rot, data.foul, data.rust. Rather than using the biological as only a metaphor, we want to study its patterns and processes for concrete, functional purposes. 

By diversifying systems of decay, we can diversify what new life is possible.

Remina Greenfield
Shuyi Cao

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