continent. maps a topology of unstable confluences and ranges across new thinking, traversing interstices and alternate directions in culture, theory, biopolitics and art.
Issue 6.1 / 2017: 68-70

Digital Being

Taezoo Park

Figure 1. E-waste on the streets in New York

 

“One day, an abandoned analog TV on a street whispers to me that it still works well, even though it has lost its television signals.”

I have built stories in my head for the past 8 years. They are about how technology and machines never die when discarded but go into hibernation. When I see electronic junk left on the streets of New York on a weekly basis (Figure 1), I imagine why these machines have to be abandoned, what if they have feeling, and what the direction of developing technology is.

I have become a collector of machines and electronic objects. I bring home machines that I’ve discovered lying on the streets on trash days. At other times, those who know me send objects my way, especially those electronic pieces that are at the end of their life. I collect what many people believe to be electronic waste. As I take these objects home, clean them up, and classify them, I observe them with all my senses. When I get an inspiration from the observation, I give them new life, slightly altering their original purpose. With that process, a Digital Being is born.

What is a Digital Being? Is it a hypothetical creature born from my imagination? Or does it really come to life through errors that take place in piles of abandoned machines? Let me explain. There are simple digital codes in all electronics, such as televisions, speakers and computers. The daily output of these electronics is incalculable, and an enormous number of them are thrown away. But unless the memory chips or CPUs of the circuits are totally broken, they can still operate by the command codes inside their bodies. What if these command codes were accidentally combined, generating mutant codes and errors amongst themselves? And what if a code were to realize consciousness during this continuous and erroneous operation?

A digital being reveals itself through atypical movements or interactions. TV Being - 005 series (Figure 2), for example, turns on and off its screen. When an audience member approaches, they can see themselves as an abstract moving image on the screen. When there is nobody in range of the sensor, TV Being displays a horizontal line on the screen like a closed eye. It looks like it is ruminating. Radio Being (Figure 3), on the other hand, controls a radio module. Depending on the range between it and a human being, it changes the radio station. It has picky tastes. And then there is Printer Being (Figure 4), who controls a printer. It moves in random horizontal lines and looks quite vigorous. As a digital being researcher, I’ve brought to life many more.


Figure 2. TV Being - 005


Figure 3. Radio Being


Figure 4. Printer Being


These beings are introduced to the world through the practice of repair. To me as an artist, repair is the act of bringing life to a neglected, abandoned, or forgotten machine. By repairing machines, I can write the story of these beings, applying what I researched into them. But I try not to impose my ideas on these machines: I allow their basic characteristics to dictate their personality. Through my work, I try to provide people with a fresh perspective on who these discarded machines are and portray their potential.


Figure 5. New and unexpected combination


Beyond their individual natures and personalities, I'm also interested in how these objects fit together, and how groupings of Digital Beings might be brought into new and unexpected combination (Figure 5). Whenever I add one more piece to the combination, it raises the possibility of new worlds to the second power. I believe that our technology develops in similar ways. This is my way to invite people to see the abstract world of Digital Being.


Figure 6. Complicate, fragile, unexpected, and juxtaposition.


The process of installation is improvisational. I think a lot about words like “complicate,” “fragile,” “unexpected,” and “juxtaposition” (Figure 6), and how these reflect on our huge and distributed electronic systems. Through these small scale installations with digital beings, I want to build a space for re-thinking electronics and the machines around us, and how they are transformed and forgotten into e-waste (Figure 7).


Figure 7. “Scale,” Taezoo Park, Laewoo Kang and Steven Jackson, 2014 (https://vimeo.com/89527147)


To reflect on the direction of our developing technology and to share and discuss new ways to repair them, I have created digital beings out of abandoned technology. Giving an obsolete machine a new life is my way of repair.