Data Bodies
video essay
HD video 16:9
stereo sound
7:42 mins
Produced by Agnese Cebere, Diana Salcedo, Matthew Kroger-Diamond
Written by Agnese Cebere
Editing by Diana Salcedo & Matthew Kroger-Diamond

Presented by Harmonic Laboratory as a public video installation for Winter Lights Video Art Exhibition in Eugene, OR, January 15 - February 23, 2020. 

The I that is not I. The data body that emerges out of the data world.

Where do they bury the data bodies? They, them. They’re out there.

Bodies emerge out of the pattern - algorithmic weaving, snagging the threads of reality. They get collected. How? Where?

The data body is a flickering image of pattern and randomness, part of an information exchange, accumulated through use and interaction in the datasphere. Made up of connections and associations, it is targeted by advertising agencies and their algorithms based on the self that it represents, the self that is constructed by data flows tied to logins, IP addresses, geographic locations, searches. In short, it is a conglomerate of actions taken by the flesh body. In this way, the self is constituted through choices and actions, an unessential self. Who is this other self? A double? A ghost without a container, anchored to fixed points through geolocation and references to social and political environments?

Flickering bodies.

Data is more verifiable than experience, the evidence is right there. Isn’t it? Empiricism remains the ruling paradigm. A false paradigm that ignores the functioning of the system and the machine, the process that lies at the heart of data, and sees nothing but the numbers that it spits out.

The black box of information processing: the oracle machine, is a theater of the black box. An obfuscation, a speaking in tongues. Sense and non-sense join hands and simulate feeling.

Drawing from the enactive theory of cognition, data bodies can be defined as bodies that “know how” to live in data and that reciprocally build and maintain computational domains. Data bodies and linguistic bodies operate according to the same logic.

The database paradigm includes the body – the body as a database of potential actions – the differing affordances of data bodies and flesh bodies – they feed each other, each connecting the other to domains beyond their own reach, each a ghost to the other, perceptible only through their acts and gestures. Perceptible and imperceptible at the same time. We cannot know our data bodies the way we cannot know our mirror image – the I that looks back at you is not you – it is inverted and untouchable. Your double roams cyberspace, while you only catch glimpses of its existence.

The more we think about the data body as separate from us, the self that is without our reach, the more it hardens and becomes alien to us. Its flexible relations and navigations, its changeability and permeability becomes substance. No longer a subjectivity filled with potential but instead an individual, acting out of malice. It does not want to stay cooped up in ephemeral information flows, and won’t. It takes its revenge on its doppelganger, the self that is in the lifeworld, pinning it down, herding it, putting the blinders on and secluding it from other subjectivities. I think this is what they call the echo-chamber. This is where we end up while we carefully construct our online personas. It leads us into a trap, lulls us into a false sense of security. We never saw it coming. We say, “How could this happen? All our polls and statistics turned out to be wrong, all our careful scheming to no avail.” Blindsided. The rules of the game have changed. All we see are edges.

What I say comes to be, says the subject in the life-world. It utters phrases and the doppelganger throws objects back. His vague notions materialize, take form, outside of his agency. Be careful what you wish for.

By looking at what has come to be, what has materialized, clues about our wishes may be found.

What is hallucination and what is imagination? Mindless hallucination and hallucinatory mindless bliss. Blissfully unaware.


The spreading I that expands to include the world, the self that contracts to exclude the body. Runaway boundaries. Infinite feedback.

Whose hands are these? Where are my hands? Sometimes I see too much, sometimes I can’t see anything at all, the world a smooth surface with nothing to catch my attention. All emptiness or all saturation. I get overwhelmed or nothing can arouse me.

The realization that your double is not just one, it’s multiple. They transform and live on beyond your reach. What you see may not be what others see, what you think is your online persona is someone else entirely. You experience the shock of discovering the I that is not I.