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Corrupted C#n#m# at FLUXspace, Philadelphia

Submitted on December 22, 2009, 7:06 am

In October I started my new project Corrupted C#n#m# with a three week long research residency at FoAM in Brussels. The project essentially transposes the tradition of abstract cinema to the digital age, and explores the physicality of digital media. Hacked digital media, biological infected electronics, and data forensic techniques all converge with the goal is to create experimental video pieces. During the beginning of November I moved to FLUXspace in Philadelphia to continue my explorations. After yet another three weeks the first Corrupted C#n#m# exhibition opened. 

Public presentation moment of Corrupted C#n#m# during the gRig Froesjels event at FoAM on October 30. (Photos Alex Davies and Angelo Vermeulen)

Public presentation moment of Corrupted C#n#m# during the gRig Froesjels event at FoAM on October 30. (Photos Alex Davies and Angelo Vermeulen)

This is the project description from the FLUXspace flyer: Corrupted C#n#m# is an amorphous, process-oriented project which explores new and old media through biological and digital experimentation via creating symbiosis and synchronicity between the living and the digital. The exhibition will consist of several components and a variety of processes, which will overlap and intermingle during the project. The experiment/project challenges and investigates parallels and dialectics between human flesh and digital physicality, bacterial infection and data corruption, and cinematic and tangible experience. Corrupted C#n#m# is an artistic inquiry into the notion of the material “body” in both the digital and the biological realm. How do we define the relationships between the natural and the artificial? How do they and when can they interface? 

Left: installation view of Corrupted C#n#m# at FLUXspace. Right: video stills of the surgery footage that was used as a point of departure for data corruption. (Photos and video stills Angelo Vermeulen)

Left: installation view of Corrupted C#n#m# at FLUXspace. Right: video stills of the surgery footage that was used as a point of departure for data corruption. (Photos and video stills Angelo Vermeulen)

Vermeulen initiated this project with SoundImageCulture and FoAM, two arts organizations in Brussels, with an experiment in which he colonized digital media with biological organisms. With the concept of glitch-art in mind, the following question arose: Can the growth of organic life on digital media cause visual glitches to video data? 

The source material for the experiment is scientific surgical footage from instructional medical tapes; this didactic and raw footage is displaced from its original VHS container through conversion into a digital file. These files are then be placed onto different digital storage devices that are manipulated and disrupted through various biological processes: bacteria, fungi, algae, and insects. These processes could cause data errors in the source material emerging as faulty lines and pixels, broken images and color shifts, among other artifacts. The biologically damaged video data will be meticulously recovered with data forensic techniques, and will then be carefully examined and displayed to determine the effects of the bacterial exposure. This physical interaction and experimentation with the actual digital media invokes early abstract cinema techniques, where the visual image on the screen was the consequence of real physical stress and alteration to the film reel. The project also explores the myth of the immaterial nature of digital art media and its production. 

One of the hard drives that has been infected with a culture of mold and bacteria. The video data stored on the drive could not be retrieved. The ultimate goal of Corrupted C#n#m# is to recuperate video from such

One of the hard drives that has been infected with a culture of mold and bacteria. The video data stored on the drive could not be retrieved. The ultimate goal of Corrupted C#n#m# is to recuperate video from such "reworked" electronics and edit the damaged data into abstracted video pieces. (Photos Angelo Vermeulen)

Through a performative/ritual process, bacteria is being collected around the city of Philadelphia by a team of volunteers, FLUXstaff, and the artist. A map of Philadelphia charts the locations each bacterial sample is collected from. The collected bacteria are then cultured following simple instructions from high school science experiments (as found on YouTube). The city becomes a monumental body from which its microbial ecosystem is superimposed on the digital media, thus making native Philadelphia bacteria act as the agent which will potentially "corrupt the cinema". 

These are some of the data forensics videos that are a source of inspiration for the project: a news item about a data recovery company, and a technical demonstration video on magnetic head replacement. These and similar videos show an interesting perspective on the "black box" that digital media still are. Hacking and reconfiguration are the first steps in exploring the creative potential of its material logic.