Reflections on Digital Life – Corinna Berndt Interview
On Digital Mistranslations and Techno-Narratives
An interview with Australian multimedia artist Corinna Berndt at the occasion of her solo exhibition “Streaming Data Is The Ultimate Trust Exercise with The Moon” presented at SomoS Berlin, August 2019.
In her recent art, the Australian-based German artist comments on the imbrication of digital technology into everyday life, the virtues of digital mis-translation, and pop-cultural techno-futuristic imaginations.
Hi Corinna, could you start by telling us a bit about who you are and what you do?
Hi, I am Corinna Berndt, a Melbourne based artist. I am originally from Germany, however I have spent half of my life living abroad. I started working with video and screen-based media whilst completing my masters in 2017, which explored concepts concerning the body, blue-screen technology and tactile visuality. I see my current work as a continuation of experiments that investigate the meeting between digital and physical worlds, through a poetic approach.
Could you explain the meaning behind the title, how you came up with this phrase?
I came up with the title during a generative writing exercise for which put a page of written text through a web-based Markov chain generator. The Markov chain generator predicts how the text should continue, based on the linguistic pattern of the provided information.
The title to me expresses a certain sense of anxiety, yet at the same time it also romanticizes and anthropomorphizes the interaction between humans and computer technology. The imaginary dimension of the title to me reflects the lack of transparency of data collecting algorithms that swarm the internet, while also proposing the communication of data with another, non-human body. The title also contemplates the trust we put into digital information technology. I think much of my work comments on the fact that we might construct our relationship with digital technology and in particular digital information networks. The underlying operation of coding is quite complex and often invisible to the general user. As such, digital technology and the lack of knowledge about how it might operate also opens itself up to speculation. The title Streaming Data is the Ultimate Trust Exercise with the Moon, therefore also reflects my self-devised techno-myth and understanding of how digital technology might work.
Could you talk a bit about your research process? What does this look like?
My research is multi-directional and often I find myself exploring several ideas at once. This means that my work can be quite experimental and is continuously evolving. At times, working in this manner can be challenging, as it can be difficult to keep track of the network of ideas that unfolds. I sometimes start with reading about areas of interest. At the same time, I try to reflect upon them through my work, or vice versa. For example, for my recently completed exhibition, I started working with 3D scanning of objects using my phone and an app I found on the internet. The idea was inspired by a radio show I listened to about digital hoarding and the decline of material possessions in younger generations. At the same time I was also reading about data bases and information storage. I also started to become interested in the idea of language as an inherent database for objects, which let me to explore working with text alongside the scanned work.
Could you talk about how your work considers technology as interwoven into everyday life?
Several of my works examine the ubiquity of digital technology through exploring concepts of techno-nostalgia. For example, my self-devised fifteen-meter-long punch card suggests historical references to the development of binary code and to the invention of the first computers. Binary code constructs the information we see when we read, write or look at images on the computer screen. I wanted to give visible form to binary code and to bring it into the exhibition space as a sculpture. To me, the act of making an impractically long punch card foregrounds the invisible processes that occur in everyday operations of digital technology. Reproducing an obsolete media for data storage, in this case the punch card, also investigates the seemingly elusive nature of data storage and its relationship to material objects. The work thus foregrounds the unseen processes that occur when recording information with digital technology. Simultaneously my work contemplates the sense of techno-nostalgia that might occur when material processes become increasingly intangible.
Another work that investigates the relationship between material objects and intangible data, is my collection of low-fi 3D scans. For this work I scanned small, everyday objects to produce a data base of personal belongings. I deliberately used my mobile phone and a free App for scanning. As a result, the 3D scans were of poor quality. The consequent loss of data and the degradation of visual information thus produced images that are difficult to identify and that are reminiscent of fossils. To me the concept of collecting data-fossils also brings forth a sense of longing for the material object. What is interesting to me, is that the missing information and the roughness of the scans also suggest a materiality in its own right. The work therefore investigates everyday data and the collecting of files. It also questions whether digital hoarding of memories and data might potentially produce a new kind of materiality that emerges when digital processes and physical objects touch.
What are the “mis-translations” you have referenced that occur when something is transferred from the physical to the digital realm?
With mis-translation in this context, I am referring to glitched, unreadable information. For example, the 3D scans of my objects make visible how digital imaging technology might accidentally produce poor information. This in turn has the potential to create a new understanding of the scanned object. The glitch in my work emerges between the interaction of the apparatus, the human and the object. I am interested in how this emphasises that even though digital technology is not alive, it has a sense of agency and can create accidental mis-readings and errors that are beyond the control of its human user. When thinking of mistranslation, maybe the first thing that comes to mind would be language and translation. In language there are certain things that don’t translate. I think it is perhaps similar when trying to recreate the material world within the digital realm through technologies such as 3D scanning. Perhaps the materiality of data suggests that the digital realm should be considered as a world in its own right which is intertwined with today’s physical reality. The mis-translations that occur in the scanning could thus be a sign of failing to render physical reality, which in turn creates a new object within the digital realm.
You currently live and work in Melbourne, although your heritage is German. How do you see your experiences of the Australian Art World as an artist of German background?
I actually completed all my art training between New Zealand and Australia. It therefore seems that I am coming to Germany with having mostly experienced the Australian artworld as a means of comparison, instead of the other way around. I found that the focus on certain concerns is specific to the location and context of each country. These concerns also of course interconnect with current global topics which come through in the artwork produced in both Australia and Germany.
Where does Berlin fit between these for you and what has it been like to work in the SomoS studios environment?
SomoS for me has been a way of re-connecting with the German art scene and to be able to fully immerse myself in it. I have been impressed by the amount of art events that are constantly on offer in Berlin and by the sheer number of artist-run spaces, galleries and mini festivals.
SomoS has been a great space for developing my project. One of the crucial elements of the residency has been the opportunity to network and meet with other artists. It was great to have the opportunity to present the progress of my work at the regular peer to peer feedback sessions. This helped to refine my ideas and to get feedback on those parts of the project that hadn’t been resolved. Furthermore, during the residency and while preparing for my exhibition, I felt supported by the directors of SomoS and by the staff and team of amazing, dedicated interns. The structure of the residency allows for the opportunity to form several close friendships; the group changes multiple times, as artists arrive at different times throughout the three months period. It has been a privilege to get to know my fellow resident artists. Having learned about their diverse practices and thought processes will continue to influence and motivate me when I return to Melbourne.