‘Do You Really Want to Live Forever?’: Animism, Death, and the Trouble of Digital Images

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Grant Bollmer
Katherine Guinness


This essay examines two works of video art to think through the apparent ‘immortality’ of recorded data and digital images, along with the use of ‘animism’ as a framework to describe the ‘liveliness’ of objects in recent cultural theory. In discussing Cécile B. Evans’ Hyperlinks or it Didn’t Happen (2014) and Korakrit Arunanondchai’s Painting with history in a room filled with people with funny names 3 (2016), we highlight how framings of death and digital images are not uniform, and are often articulated to other cultural beliefs. Yet these beliefs cannot be temporally or spatially opposed in any rigid fashion (as ‘modern’ or ‘premodern’, ‘Western’ or ‘Eastern’), in spite of attempts to suggest a ‘return’ to animism to theorise the agency of objects is an embrace of premodern, non-Western epistemologies and ontologies. The ‘troubled images’ we discuss here should be thought through a sense of ‘trouble’ derived from Donna Haraway: as stirring up, or making cloudy. We aim to further complicate and ‘trouble’ the ethical imperatives of animism (in the work of those like Haraway) given the role of digital media in sustaining or putting into practice the animisms of our present. In doing this, we also advance an ontological argument about data and its relationality, suggesting that data be theorised through tropes of metonymy and synecdoche.

Article Details

Troubled Images
Author Biography

Grant Bollmer, North Carolina State University and the University of Sydney

Grant Bollmer is an Assistant Professor of Communication at North Carolina State University and an Honorary Associate of the Department of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney. He is the author of two books, Inhuman Networks: Social Media and the Archaeology of Connection (2016, Bloomsbury), and Theorizing Digital Cultures (2018, SAGE).