Thhis exhibition was initiated by me and a few MA students in the Information Experience Design programme I was running at the Royal College of Art. The theme was ‘possession’ in relation to data, algorithms and objects.
I created an installation, Ritual, which critically interrogated our relation with advanced technologies as ‘magical’ (from Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quote), through the use of nondigital objects (of wood, stone, bone and dirt) supposedly enchanted with ‘real’ magic. I used projection mapping onto the floor to display traditional symbols (from English West Country magical traditions). A second projection cast animated fire onto animal horns (kindly loaned by the Powell-Cotton Museum) mounted in a pentagram on the back wall. Explicit instructions in the form of a traditional conjuring ritual told the visitor to handle the objects in particular ways and await the results.
The overall mix of esoteric and provocative imagery was accordingly designed to provoke mixed feelings in viewers—curiosity and unease upon discovering the ‘real’ magic at work. Satanic scares paralleled the rise of Silicon Valley, where I grew up, and my explicit use of instructions and a traditional ritual was intended to raise questions in visitors about the value and validity of such spells and rituals, in relation to algorithms and programming, within the broader context of the exhibition. As an immersive experience, it raised questions about what ‘augmented reality’ and 'presence' mean at a deeper level, looking beyond current, screen-mediated forms; it does this using ‘spatial augmented reality’ (projection mapping) and sound, as well as material, nondigital objects.
In our co-curation of the exhibition, all the works used projection in similar ways, and all engaged explicitly with materiality, and all the works used alternative forms of (non-screen-based) interaction.
Ozgun Kilic’s two Possessed Objects both contained small lights embedded within, using materials and user interaction to project moire patterns onto surrounding walls. Oliver Smith’s 'on/off/in[line]' used electronics embedded in a cast concrete cylinder to evoke the physical infrastructure of networks, and its actions (searching local WiFi networks) were projected onto the wall behind, with network data sonified into noisy static, in what he called ‘forced technological misdirection.’ Francesco Tacchini’s 'Spook-I' was based on his research into the US National Security Administration’s digital surveillance projects recently revealed by Edward Snowden, combined with his research on hauntology. It was a large circuit board painted gold and adorned with uselessly flashing lights, but which concealed a jamming device which disrupted any nearby phone for one minute, captured its user’s email address, then sent them an email purportedly from the NSA. Data projected onto the wall behind revealed what it had found as it awoke for ten seconds every minute.
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