Anamnesis

Computer Art Undergraduate B.F.A. Thesis Project. 2015.

Interactive installation / web development / book design.

A computer art installation with an ongoing research topic: the relationship between human memory and digital memory.

I. Concept

Digital photographs are still frames of moments in time; some images are captured in order to make the moment last, others are captured in order to give significance to an otherwise insignificant moment in time. Regardless, they can be captured and stored quite easily. Every time I clear the photos off of my iPhone, I delete a few thousand image files and move them to my external hard drive, where they sit for years; rarely, if ever, revisited once they find their new home. For most people in the Western world, this is common practice.

If the images were physical objects, these hundreds of thousands of images would take up a lot of space in our lives. It's the lack of a physical presence that makes it so easy to store so much data, without even taking a second thought. If you can just store x-many GBs of files in a tiny photo-box-sized rectangle, why not? Maybe they'll be useful someday. It's digital-hoarding, it's normal. Why not save everything?

Bit Rot, or Data Decay, is the phenomenon of digital media stored on digital storage devices gradually losing bits over time. When files lose bits, they don't just get kinda messed up, they become completely corrupted. It's binary, 0 or 1; dead or alive. You don't get to say goodbye once your files are gone. Yet, digital storage is supposed to be more reliable than physical storage. What's more probable: random error corruption or a fire?

Physicality makes things more 'real'--more important; more important = more significant.

If you would cry over losing your birth certificate, your family photographs, and any other personal documents in a fire, why is it stupid if i cried when I crashed my hard drive and lost every digital document I've ever created?

My goal is to put digital files in the spotlight. I want to give them a physical presence; I want to bring them out of their digital homes and out of the screen. This project is about communicating the importance of taking care of digital memory.

 

II. Submissions

Submissions were the most valuable part of this project. I created a submission website that served as a digital dropbox for anyone who wished to contribute to Anamnesis. The contributors were welcome to submit as many files as they liked, and of any filetype. The only prompt was that the files must have some kind of emotional significance that gave them value; there must be some reason behind the file choice--that reason can be shared or kept secret.

The submission form included the following inputs, all of which were optional:

  • Name

  • File(s)

  • Email

  • Additional comments / notes

By submitting, all contributors accepted that their files would be displayed in an art exhibition setting. All submitted files were stored to my personal hard-drive and never shared or distributed in any other way. With digital contributions, digital privacy and respect of ownership is extremely important.

 

III. Program

The fun part--coding. The program was made to emulate the digital-decaying process by analyzing the RGB values of each pixel and moving them around in a curve, depending on the pixel's numerical RGB value. It was created in Processing.

 

IV. Book

To add another layer of physical presence, I created a book. Each submission had its own page, which included any information that was submitted to the Anamnesis website. Every file deserved to be seen, but not every file would be seen in the final installation. This book was the only way I saw fit to give these submitted files the physicality that they so deserve. It also allowed the viewer to further comprehend the concept behind the installation.

 

V. Installation

Pre-show set-up. Spark Contemporary Art Space, May 2015.

189 files were split up and displayed on three LCD screens. Each screen was made to look like a digital photo frame, with recycled wooden frames and Bristol board mat. Each screen was connected to a laptop computer, which ran the Processing program and analyzed incoming serial data from a range-detection sensor.

As the viewer walked closer to the screen, the displayed image would become clear, as it exists at the present time. As the viewer walked farther from the screen, the displayed image would become more and more 'corrupted' until it becomes completely unidentifiable.