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YOU:R:CODE

Interactive media artwork by Bernd Lintermann and Peter Weibel

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© ZKM | Zentrum für Kunst und Medien, photo: Jonas Zilius
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YOU:R:CODE

YOU ARE CODE: YOUR CODE

Man is a set of codes: this is the core thesis of the exhibition OpenCodes, Leben in Digitalen Welten, 2017, designed by Peter Weibel at ZKM, in the context of which the work YOU:R:CODE by Bernd Lintermann was conceived and developed according to Peter Weibel's idea.

Walking along seven juxtaposed panels, one experiences reflections of one's self in different digital transformations: Light reflection, 3D scans, traces of social media, shadow/barcode, and synthetic genome for self-creation. The form of the representations is not random, but reflects especially in the digital representations technical-scientific developments that determine our future.

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Panel 1

The Mirror

Water was the first medium, a kind of liquid mirror, with and in which man could see himself. The water waves became light waves, ther eflection in the water became reflection in the mirror. The mirror image is a pure light phenomenon, which obeys the laws of geometry and optics, the code of physics. The mirror image is, metaphorically speaking, a kind of optical code. The mirror delivers a virtual two-dimensional image of the human being that appears very realistic because it is a perfect analog copy. The myth of narcissus, who is attracted by his mirror image and drowns in the water, as well as many fairy tales and the psychoanalytic theory of the mirror stage by Jacques Lacan (1936), remind us of the importance of the mirror in the formation of the self or subject.

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Panel 2

The Digital Mirror

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© Bernd Lintermann and Peter Weibel
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The digital mirror captures the three-dimensional surface of humans by means of sensors and a camera. The sensor data is sent to a computer  that simulates the function of an analog mirror. The computer creates the image and not the mirror. The computer generates a digital image that behaves like an analog image. The viewer sees a calculated picture of herself – reflected in the calculated picture. The real body in front of the mirror film is transformed into a data body. The viewer sees her digital copy. Man creates his digital image through data processing. Here begins the step from self-portrait to synthetic self-creation.

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Panel 3

The Scan

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© Bernd Lintermann and Peter Weibel
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In the classic TV picture, a beam from the cathode tube scans the screen horizontally and linearly. These scan lines generate the image. The viewer's body is scanned three-dimensionally in the installation. The data obtained in this way becomes an independently usable data set. Therefore, the body detaches itself from the viewer and leads a life of its own in a parallel world similar to Lewis Carroll's story Alice Behind the Mirrors (1871). The scan is an extension of the mirror because it determines and displays data that is not visible in a classic mirror.

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Panel 4

The Traces of Social Media

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© Bernd Lintermann and Peter Weibel
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With our web browser and smartphone, we permanently leave electronic traces on the net. This and sensor data from the environment in which we move are continuously stored in clouds and converted into a digital identity with the help of big data algorithms and artificial intelligence. Data are linked from different sources and generate an increasingly accurate model of our behavior. Social media portals offer us services to retrieve ever more diverse and private data. In the installation, the viewer is represented as a collage of social media icons and program codes that represent her network identity calculated from algorithms. Properties such as height, age, gender, hair color, etc. are determined from the cloud using artificial intelligence techniques. Similar to the footprint on the beach, where people recognizes who has walked in front of them, the user leaves a wide data trail in many places on the internet. The algorithm follows the human being, he analyzes his impressions and traces at every step and builds an ever clearer, sharper and deeper image of the viewer.

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Panel 5

The Genome

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© Bernd Lintermann and Peter Weibel
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We ourselves carry the source code of our body around with us: the genome. It consists of the hereditary molecule deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA for short, which is present in each of our cell nuclei. Cells die and form continously. Man always carries with him the command code, the definition of himself: the DNA code. Code alone does not make a person: Enzymes read the code, transcribe it for further use in the body. They are the data processing algorithms that shape us. The code is complex and rich in information and error-prone: the smallest changes lead to enormous effects such as diseases. What is special about DNA is its universal code - it is the same for all living beings on earth. The extremely stable basic structure of DNA is called the double helix. Two strands of sugar and phosphate form a twisted rope ladder with the four bases adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine. The genome forms the algorithm of life and determines not only external attributes of our body, but also predispositions for diseases up to character traits, which in the past were rather attributed to our phenotype, i.e. the human being shaped by the environment. For example, genes have been identified that are responsible for a person's sense of humor, altruism and empathy.

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Panel 6

The Menome

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© Bernd Lintermann and Peter Weibel
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With DNA, evolution has developed a perfect machine over billions of years, the source code of every earthly creature. By exploring the code of DNA, such as the CRISPR process, the cutting of telomeres (the end of linear chromosomes), man goes beyond natural evolution. In the human-controlled exo-evolution, he transfers his algorithms and their content to technology by means of DNA synthesis. God supposedly created man in his image. Now, in a second act of creation, man creates a perfect image of himself. Current research projects combine the biological and digital codes. At the European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge, DNA is being investigated as an extremely compact and long-storable information store for archiving purposes. Machine DNA synthesis produces a long information thread that is decoded again by DNA analysis. A specially developed coding system maps the digital data to the four bases. This encryption and decryption was successfully tested with a 400 page non-fiction book and a picture and sound file of Martin Luther King's speech »I Have a Dream«. The cultural creations of man – Richard Dawkin's »Meme« – could in future be digitized and stored in a »menoma«. However, everyday objects are already marked with synthetic DNA for unambigous identification. For example, Deutsche Telekom provides copper cables with liquid artificial DNA consisting of several bases to prove their origin in the event of theft: DNA is the barcode of the future.

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Panel 7

The Shadow / The Barcode

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© Bernd Lintermann and Peter Weibel
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The legend passed down from the Roman scholar Plinius the Elder that painting originated when a young Corinthian woman captured the profile of her lover, who set out on her voyage, on the wall in candlelight according to his silhouette or outline. For decades, images composed of light – with televisions, monitors and projectors – determined communication with digital computers. Since the advent of the Internet of Things, the digital image has become detached from light and the objects themselves have become displays. When you illuminate an analog object, it casts a shadow. The installation draws and illuminates the digital image of an object and also displays its digital shadow with the built-in flip-dot display. The board consists of thousands of small plates or rotatable disks that behave like data. They rotate and turn depending on the object and show a white area for the content or a black area for the emptiness and absence of data. The virtual image becomes material again. The shadow of the viewer is shown as an outline as described by Pliny. Within the shadow or shadow outline, the human being is represented as a barcode (vertical bars) and this is represented by the position of the plates. The human being becomes a bar code. His identity, his self, his reflection are marked by barcode like goods. The barcode becomes the medium of identification. At the end of evolution, man becomes a data carrier and data hunter. Transhumanism begins.

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Credits

 

YOU:R:CODE 2017
Interactive Installation

Idea: Peter Weibel
Concept, realization: Bernd Lintermann
Texts: Bernd LintermannPeter Weibel
Audio design: Ludger BrümmerYannick Hofmann
Flip dot display realization: Christian Lölkes
Technical Support: Manfred HaufenJan Gerigk
Structure, planning: Thomas Schwab
Production: ZKM | Hertz-Lab

 

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