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Deborah Mora graduated from the BA Design Art and Technology at ArtEZ in 2020. Mora's practise explores the symbiotic relationship between nature, culture and technology. Through notions of memory, preservation, rewilding and resilience her practice brings more-than-human perspectives. The focus on natural process, artefacts and myths unfold different modes of experiencing the mediated world. The project 0°N, 0°E is an invitation to a collective, technologically mediated memory of nature. The cyber myth of Null Island is used to project how knowledge is generated when the only access to nature is hypermediated modality. Can our natural environments be preserved in a digital format? How does this format contribute to knowledge and experiences? We caught up with Deborah to find out.
How does the 0°N, 0°E project reflect upon the dynamic between the online and offline world?
The Null Island is constructed by a majority of files that are found online. Especially during the period of the lockdown and of self isolation, the online world was a gateway to ‘travel’ to remote places, places I couldn’t access in that moments or places I would have liked to visit. In the moment when irl (in real life) experiences are limited, I rely on the internet and on its vastness and variety to get lost and create a different kind of experience. This is a sort of escapism orientation, which is also very common in games simulations and social media.
On the other hand, the 0°N, 0°E project focuses on natural artefacts and environments. It finds and collects different media: photographs, satellites pictures, 3D models, sound recordings of nature. They document and depict nature, but they are truly digital files. In this way, the work talks as well about our experience of nature when we can only access a mediated manifestation of it. In other words, through all these online media, all these files that are uploaded to the internet by different people, our experience of the offline natural world is shaped and constructed. It creates a sort of parallel version of the same reality, but from a multitude of different perspectives.
On Null island you present assemblages of misplaced online information as ghosts, projections of data lost in cyberspace. What does this signify about how we consume information digitally?
When a file is uploaded to the internet, it suddenly becomes part of a cloud of non-identifiable objects. Especially when certain data are missing —in this case, the geoposition data— it’s even harder to retrieve precise information about that object. The Null Island becomes the place where all these lost objects come together, a sort of archive. I think that this says something about how we consume information digitally: many times, we don’t really know or care about the identity of this information, or if this information is authentic.
Can you elaborate on the importance of history, memory and myth within your work?
I call the story of the Null Island a cyber-myth, because it’s a materialisation of an internet phenomenon and contributes to our understanding of it. I find it fascinating how stories are created also in the context of internet cultures, in a way trying to give shape and context to something that is beyond human control — in this case, the software’s automatic attribution of the 0,0 geolocation data to files that are missing their coordinates.
On the other hand, the story of the Null Island creates the perfect platform to think about how natural objects could survive in a digital format. Documentation of physical object and places occurs when we want to encapsulate a sort of knowledge of extend the memory of it. Most of the objects and files that are present in the work are sourced from scientists, archeologists, biologists that documented these objects for study and survey, and uploaded them online for free in order to make them available to their students or other professionals that can’t physically visit those places. As for them photographing, 3D scanning, sound recording are tools for research and documentation, for me they speak about the possibility of extending the lifetime of this objects in the digital format and preserving their memory. This is relevant nowadays when natural landscapes and artifacts are threatened by climate changes. It’s also interesting to see how different time scales are brought together: our human time which is the time we are able to observe things changing, the ‘slow’ geological time, through which environments and species form, and the hyper fast, internet ‘time’ where everything is constantly accessible. The Null Island is for me a timeless place where all these objects try to survive virtually, beyond material deterioration.
There is a constant flow and transmission in the video, giving a sensorial quality to the work. How does this format reflect the relationship between technology and nature?
The video looks at the island with attentive eyes, they gaze at the terrains from distance or they come closer to take a deeper look at the details, like a small creature that constantly moves around the floating space. Even though the whole environment is digital, I tried to bring in a certain sensorial quality that could become almost tactile.
How does the role of hypermediacy inform your work?
For me hypermediacy is a way of constantly being reminded of where I’m watching from. To not fall into the absorption of these worlds as I create them, but to keep standing on the ground. The aesthetic of the tabs, the screenshots and the levitating text are all signals that communicate that you are immersed in a fictional space.
What does the aesthetic use of negative space, blind spots and glitches reveal about Null island?
The blank, blind spots are a way to reveal the incompleteness of the data, the misplacing of information, the glitches in the system. The Null Island is a this timeless, liminal place where things that once were are now becoming something else. It says something about technological mediation and the impossibility of fully translate the physical experience.
The soundscape flows between natural and animalistic to a more robotic and otherworldly sound, which is also reflected in speech. Can you talk about this transition?
The soundscape is designed by Igor Dubreucq, who created an amazing atmospheric, immersive sound that drags you into the exploration of the island. The ambience beautifully blends natural, animalistic sounds from field recordings I sourced online, that Igor mixed with his own produced sounds, adding a more cinematic feeling to it, together with Michelle van Ool’s dreamy strings. The narration is whispered, making it a more intimate experience and accentuating the feeling of closeness, guiding the viewer into the tale of the Island while its virtual landscapes unfold in front of their eyes. Together all these elements evoke an otherwordly atmosphere, suspended between the natural and organic and the electronic, artificially produced. The aim is trying to break this distinction.
The work uses original and downloaded photographs, 3D models and sound recordings from different sources, which visually presents a collaborative experience. With this in mind, how do you consider the notion of authorship within this work?
The material I sourced online comes from creative-common licensed databases. I highly value authorship and I credited all the authors and the platforms where I sourced the files. I payed attention to the different copyright policies. Wherever possible, I also contacted the owners of the material asking for permission and informing them about the intention of my work. Sometimes I also tried to start a conversation with them, because I was very curious of the reason why they documented and registered that object and why they made that file available for free. Other times it was very hard to find the contacts of the author, because of missing full name or email. In those cases, I just accepted the fact that this could happen and this also reinforces the concept. Files origins are hard to be retraced once they are uploaded online.
I strongly support the idea of free sharing through the internet. I think it’s essential among creatives. I also remember the time growing up when we had a limited internet bandwidth and I couldn’t be connected for too long. Back then, I used to download a lot of pictures and music I liked in order to save them ‘forever’. I think this also reflects the idea of digital preservation through copies and copies.
The project speaks of the loss of a physical world, as the virtual one thrives. When reflecting on the urgency of the ecological and environmental crisis we face, how essential is the preservation of natural environments in a digital format and how can this translation, if at all, encourage the reverse from digital to physical?
I think digital preservation is essential, but not exhaustive. The digital is one of the multiple formats through which natural elements can be ‘saved’ and can be accessed for longer times, beyond their lifespan. But as every translation, in the moment you mediate something you lose certain qualities of it. I’m very concerned about other sensorial qualities that do not have (yet) a direct form of translation or a modality of distribution through online technologies, for example smell or touch. These senses are for me essential to the way we perceive things and how our experience of the world around us is formed. I would be curious to find out if any reverse-translation from digital to physical could also expand in the realm of these other senses.
As the borders between digital and physical collapse, how do you envision the future hybrid of reality and simulated life?
My thought is that we are approaching a time where physical and digital are blending more and more, and they are dependant on each other. I’d love to see a future where a simulated reality could also be considered authentic. And maybe, as I already mentioned, we’ll see the possibility of ‘digitalising’ the senses of touch, smell, taste in a similar way we digitalise pictures and sounds.