back to blog overview

Digital Shamanism at Netwerk, Aalst

Submitted on December 22, 2009, 11:34 am

Last week on Thursday and Friday, the video essay "Digital Shamanism" by Josh Kerner and Angela Jerardi was on display during the "Tranche de Vie" event in Netwerk in Aalst, Belgium. The video is a reflection on my past residency at FLUXspace in Philadelphia, and is conceived as an associative reading of the various experiments for my new project "Corrupted C#n#m#". I inquired into the role of digital media's physicality by opening up hard drives and exposing them to different types of biological (degradation) processes. My main interest was to recover video files that I had saved at the start of the experiments, and work with the errors that would inevitably accompany data recovery. Essentially the project tries to transpose the tradition of abstract cinema to the digital age by working with the material aspect of digital video. 

Digital Shamanism by Josh Kerner and Angela Jerardi from FLUXspace.

Digital Shamanism by Josh Kerner and Angela Jerardi from FLUXspace.

I use surgical videos as images to corrupt because of their interesting dialectic relation to hacked and infected electronics. In “Digital Shamanism” surgery footage donated by a local Philadelphia surgeon was used as a backdrop for the narrated essay. The idea of opening up hard drives is linked to the early days of surgery, when this practice was still half rooted in “shamanism”, characterized by ritual curiosity, trial and error, and a quest for the anomaly. Here’s an excerpt from the text: 

Angelo, in his hypothesis for "Corrupted C#n#m#", stated that one of his goals was to disprove the myth that media art was wholly immaterial and divorced from the physical act of making. An unfortunate side effect of meddling with modern data storage devices is that they are far more easily destroyed than they are altered. Due to tamper prevention devices on hard drives, opening the hard drive case most often causes irreparable damage, the result being that the drive will rarely function again. Furthermore, the essential nature of digital media necessitates a sterile operating environment. When a foreign body is present on the drive, the information is completely and unutterably inaccessible. 

Perhaps we should focus on the road-blocks inherent in Angelo’s experiment? While we have not yet found a viable detour around some of the basic properties of common hard drives (on a technical level these experiments have been failures), the ideas and concepts that underlie the project propel continued thought and conversation. (…) 

Vermeulen – as though he were Dr. Moreau – dissected, added, and combined unlike-elements in experiments that might be destined for failure, but that hold on to the hope of finding a surviving specimen, a “successful” anomaly in the results. In his effort to defy logic, Vermeulen's practice is perhaps in line with that of the medicine man, working outside of, or even against what we know today as the empirical knowledge of western medicine or computer science. 

Thanks to Joe DiGiuseppe for the video editing, and to Rika Hawes for the narration.