I remember years ago, my favorite movie was Return to OZ. It was just the right amount of creepy and fed my need to know what happened to Dorothy, after she returned to Kansas. I think about that film very differently now. At one point in the film, Dorothy is challenged with the task of finding her friends, who have been turned into ornaments and now sit alongside other ornaments in a large hall.
Her task is relatively simple. Touch an ornament and say the word ‘OZ’. If the ornament turns into one of her friends, she gets another go, another turn to guess. If the ornament turns out to just be an ornament, she loses a guess and creeps closer to losing the game entirely.
She spins around the room, grasping at random objects, until she finds a pattern. One by one she brings back all her friends with a touch, a shout and a flash of green and saves them from a life of ornamental nothingness.
I want to talk about bringing things back.
I wish I could really, truly bring things back, which I suppose is a fuel for my obsessive re-creation of objects in the digital realm. But the objects are never full, or whole and instead just pieces and fragments that I play, replay and place together to try and create a full entity.
When I think about the mass of voice recordings, videos, and animated artefacts that litter the digital cosmos, I often think of them existing forever … There’s part of me that loves that, that they’re floating about or something to that effect. Yet, somehow the idea of that also insights a feeling of unease and sometimes even horror.
Of course, nothing exists forever, I mean what is forever?
I came across a term used by the artist Ed Atkins. ‘Losslessness’ (Atkins 2018). From my understanding Losslessness infers that the digital reproduction of something absent does not undo loss, but instead cements loss and reminds you of loss proper.
‘Losslessness, part abstracted, implicitly invites a mistaking of technology’s progression for a fantasy of immortality.’
To be immortal is to live forever. Well we can’t possibly comprehend forever, so maybe the fantasy of immortality is a form of magic, that tricks us into believing that something can exist forever. I agree with Atkins in so much as a digital reproduction will always only be a part of something, be it an image or a sound. In never existing as the full thing, or let’s be frank, person it will always remind us that this person can never fully exist again.
This is where the horror comes in, because just like body parts, digital objects represent and then exist as a segment of something. And when afforded the opportunity, we cling to these parts, or at least I do.
I saw an advertisement the other day for a live concert celebrating the life and work of Whitney Houston. Described as a post humous show, An Evening with Whitney included projections and holograms of the late singer performing her most famous hits. I thought about how night after night her image would perform on the stage, only to be switched off after the curtain call and be brought back with an exact and unwavering detail every night of the tour.
The idea of this is so alluring. To see a person again and again and, in a fashion, bring them back to life. But in this form, Whitney does not exist for herself. The image is all that remains, and as theorists such as Amelia Jones and Roland Barthes have stated when discussing the photograph, images are ‘death-dealing apparatus [that] fetishize and congeal time’(42: date).
It’s interesting that I came upon this advert while thinking about all of this, because for me this whole thing … this thing of reanimation and reproduction is such a performance.
When we re-active or animate someone or something it’s so theatrical and intense. When I do it, I find myself creating augmented or fantasy versions of artefacts. I embody memories and like collage stick things together that give me a sense of something. I use the artefacts to trigger a memory vortex, that I can dive into and live in, just like I would live in a play or a movie, forgetting what’s outside the theatre walls (or my screen).
In my mind the performance of digital reproduction is me spinning eyes closed, pirouetting until I stop; grasp in the darkness and hold something that will potentially recall something. Sometimes the ornaments remain ornaments and sometimes I feel a flash of green and get to dive into the vortex.
I haven’t brought anyone back yet, so I’ll keep spinning.