Artists' Meeting and Data and Device Embalming Workshop

Audrey Samson @Data Embalming
Wednesday, 29. March 2017 - 18:00 to 21:00
[esc] medien kunst labor
  • Workshop

The workshop is a data and device embalming service and offers participants the opportunity to receive their own digital data funeral. It is centered on the so-called Snowden files, and explores issues of surveillance and datafication. Participants are presented with a short background on these themes and given a USB key to choose the files they wish to embalm. Embalming occurs during the workshop and each participant leaves with their own embalmed data relic. The workshop also requires additional material and health and safety requirements listed below.


Artists’ Meeting and Workshop, Video conference London – Linz – Graz: Wed, 29th of March 2017, 6 - 9pm, Entrance free, registration until 24th of March at


The Data and Device Embalming Workshop was held as a live video conference between London (Audrey Samson), Linz (Ushi Reiter,, and Aileen Derieg) and Graz (esc mkl).


Audrey Samson gave an introduction online, from London.

“My initial inspiration for this project was from a very long time ago, maybe ten years ago, in the days before Facebook, when it was still MySpace. If we can all remember those days when interfaces were not so clean. I suppose what really caught my attention is that, because MySpace profiles were open and that you didn’t have to be friends with people to be able to see their profile, you could basically visit any profiles. From this, I started discovering profiles of dead people that still had a profile, and very interestingly, friends and/or family were using this profile to talk to them. For us in 2017, this is quite normal I think, in the sense that we’ve all heard about this phenomenon by now. But for me, let’s say 10,12 years ago, I was very perturbed initially to see comments like “you know, I met this person today and I wonder what you would have said” and “you know I miss you” and “how are you up there?”. This is a very public forum where these things are being said, and for me this was really strange. So, that’s the sort of initial inspiration. I started to think about what is it about the internet that people feel like it’s a medium to someone on the other side, the beyond, who is dead basically. What is it about this technology that perhaps makes us feel like it’s ethereal and that it may have a connection to the dead? And of course now this has evolved in so many things like services that offer avatars that will look at how you tweet and what you do on Facebook and through machine learning will study your reaction, so that after you die people may access you through this avatar. These are now paying services that are available, it’s no longer Sci-Fi and we have of course Black Mirror that’s reminds us of all this. I guess this idea of digital death in the beginning- digital death as in what happens to your data after you die and online mourning related issues - really problematized network materiality for me. It really emphasized how this idea of materiality of the network becomes very evident in these moments of mourning and in death. It also emphasizes all the other aspects of network materiality because people started saying “You know, my daughter is dead and I want to retrieve her MySpace account” and low and behold they realized that they had no control over that information, that MySpace owns it. You sign the term of agreement, you said yes to this, this person is dead, they owe you nothing, and that is it. No one was winning anything in the American courts against for example Yahoo, and MySpace. We actually don’t have any control of this data.


So, surveillance and tracking happen partially as a result of big data and data analysis. We produce so much data, well there are devices that generate data based on our behaviours,and we are subsequently tracked. This is apparently some sort of mega efficiency (I would argue to the contrary), but nonetheless what happens to all this data? Where is it stored? How many billions of kilowatts are needed to maintain this storage? We are producing evermore amounts of data. I suppose, what got me to the idea of the funeral, it is that I started to think of all this data accumulating in servers, which are far away. We actually don’t even know, usually, unless they are, which I know where it is-but apart from that we don’t know where they are. In a way it’s not just our memories, it feels a bit like almost a part of us is externalized. It could be our memory, it could be something else but there’s so much of us that is externalized from our body, and we not only have no control over it but we also cannot delete it, ever. Even if we did it’s propagated based on the way that the internet works, essentially through redundancy. I started to think about how we could make it tangible in a way to be able to talk about these issues, because it’s very hard to discuss things that you can’t see, like servers far away and also about somehow bringing this data back to ourselves. Ritually, like in a funeral. I started thinking about funerals because socially they have this symbolic function and it helps in the mourning process, as well as reinsertion into society. So I was thinking, ok, maybe this could be a way to address this part of ourselves that we’ve lost in a way. Maybe we’re mourning it, maybe it’s a way to ritually reincorporate it. And it’s not really happening, you know in a funeral they don’t bring back the dead-it’s just a way of saying goodbye. So, it can serve all these different layers of purposes as well. I suppose this is normally the part in the workshop where I say to participants “so then, what would you like to erase forever if you could?... because you can’t, but if you could- what would that be?”


Concept: Audrey Samson

Support, Workshop: Ushi Reiter


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