please be tender with my data
The story began with a missing file. The metaverse awakening triggered by Facebook’s rebranding to Meta felt like right moment to recall Body Open Source – Eternal Engine’s VR work from 2018 – and to queer the metaverse again. Annoyingly, the file with the source code backed up to the cloud four years ago occurred to be corrupted. The frantic hard drive search, nervous tightness in the chest, and the feeling of emptiness when it’s gone. File not found. Sounds familiar?
Emotional, intimate, or even sexual relation to data comes from its fragility. As humans are Data Beings in the Information Age, the attempt to separate the digital from the non-digital turns futile. ‘Please be tender with my data’ pleads the avatar from the exhibition’s titular work. The non-binary guardian – rendered in violet hues, emerging on luminous fabric hung in the exhibition centre. A fighter struggling with the country’s oppressive politics. A queer escaping from the cis-heteronorm of the Real to the utopias of the Virtual. Is any space safe?
Anxieties around the intimate human relationship with data translate in our language. Data leaks are akin to losing vital, precious fluids that inform our identity. Cyber hacking and data surveillance threaten our autonomy – they hit the sensitive points of our digital nervous system.
The acts of reclaiming power over the digital body can manifest in many ways. These can be – as radical as the quantified-self movement, which uses self-tracking through wearables to help achieve a comforting feeling of control. In return, the movement practitioners surrender their sensitive data to companies. Online voyeuristic practices fuel social media platforms – for some they can be a turn on, as long as the voir knows about the voyeur. Security freaks worry about undesirable, non-consensual use of their data, as much as they fear burglaries or sexual assaults. While data generates visibility, data gaps lead to biases towards gender, racial and sexual identity. The consequences of it are felt by the underrepresented and marginalised groups.
What can we then do to regain control of our digital bodies? Eternal Engine duo show us a tender yet radical way to do so – by subverting technology with queer practices that use sexuality as a weapon and the body as a cognitive apparatus. Their artistic strategies derive from the non-hetonormative experience and its struggles that manifest in creating their own, decentralised worlds. The queer urge to be autonomous is embodied here in an independent server – a matrix with an oval-shaped, uncanny, BDSM-like form which you plug into. Inside, the dream of the free, non-binary sex awaits you – created on a binary computer, with the acceptance of its technological and semantic primitivism. The dream of a spiritual act of pleasure, that escapes the limitations of what is masculine and what is feminine, is achieved.
And the file was found.