[ISEA2016] Panel Statement: Teodor Mitew — Object Hierophanies and the Mode of Anticipation

Panel Statement

Panel: Data Natures: The Politics and Aesthetics of Prediction through Variability

The Internet of Things (IoT) involves physical objects monitoring their immediate environments through a variety of sensors, transmitting the acquired data to remote networks, and initiating actions based on embedded algorithms and feedback loops. The data in these loops makes its journey to an obfuscated proprietary taxonomy of corporate server farms and returns to the situated object as a transcendental revelation of an opaque order impenetrable to human interlocutors. This case study argues that in effect the nature of an IoT enabled object appears as the receptacle of an exterior force that differentiates it from its milieu and gives it meaning and value in unpredictable ways. IoT enabled objects such as the aptly named Amazon Echo acquire their value, and in so doing become real for their interlocutors, only insofar as they participate in one way or another in remote data realities transcending the locale of the object. Insofar as the data gleaned by such devices has predictive potential when viewed in aggregate, the enactment of this potential in a local setting is always already a singular act of manifestation of a transcendental data nature.
In his work on non-modern notions of sacred space philosopher of religion Mircea Eliade conceptualized this act of manifestation of another modality of being into a local setting as a hierophany. Hierophanies are not continuous, but wholly singular acts of presence by a different modality. By manifesting that modality, which Eliade termed as the sacred, an object becomes the receptacle for a transcendental presence, yet simultaneously continues to remain inextricably entangled in its surrounding milieu. Spaces punctured by hierophanies are not homogenous, but are experienced as a heterogeneous array of interruptions, crevices, liminal breaks, folds, and pauses of enchantment. In other words, the manifestation of a hierophanic presence reconstitutes heretofore homogeneous spaces. There is a strange attraction between non-modern imaginaries of hierophany as a gateway to the sacred, and IoT enabled objects transducing loci into liminal and opaque data taxonomies looping back as a black-boxed echo. The case study proposes that when viewed in aggregate, such hierophany-punctured spaces seem to resonate in a mode of anticipation of human and non-human agency in the form of a new data aesthetics.

  • Teodor Mitew, Ph.D, University of Wollongong, AU

Full text (PDF)  p. 386-390