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Colorado's Digital Archaeologist Is Mapping Your Data Doppelgänger

Meet Chris Coleman, an artist and academic in Colorado exploring the impact of the internet on human existence.

Andrew Salomone

Images courtesy of the artist. 

This article originally appeared on Creators.

Like a beachcomber examining the remnants of a sea creature, artist Chris Coleman looks at the impressions that we leave on the internet. Using a combination of fabricated objects and digital processes, his work considers the impact that our actions in the digital world have on our everyday lives. "One of the key, utopic visions was that the internet was where anyone could be anything. Now the internet and the data that drives it has gathered, stored, and commodified everything we do, everything we buy, everyone we are connected to. One could argue that to the majority of the world, and notably to businesses and organizations, our digital presence is 'who' we are," Coleman, who's an Associate Professor of Emerging Digital Practices at the University of Denver, tells Creators.

In the Secure Shell Copy Series, Coleman gives digital body scans to real people and then animates the data he collects to mimic the creation of a digital self. "Various algorithms reduce the information to the point where the figure is barely recognizable. The shell is then infused with data, expanding and contracting as it tries to accommodate the flux of information, ever shifting like sand in the desert," a statement on Coleman's website explains.

Along with digital animation, Coleman constantly works with new and different processes to create installations and interactive works. "My interest in coding, electronics, and 3D [computer-aided design] had a huge impact on my ability to work at the intersection of the physical and digital. I tend to vary my modes of production from animation to interactive installation and also doing collaborations with other artists," he says.

Unclaimed is an interactive installation Coleman made with Laleh Mehran to demonstrate the motion of air molecules in an uncontrolled airspace and suggest that unregulated and un-owned spaces can be preserved through individual attention. The installation features 3D printed models, a grid of fans, microphones, HD cameras, lighting, and microcontrollers running a custom-made application. "The visitors can blow across the glowing 3D printed city where their breath mixes with that of others, visualized in flowing swirls of light under the city. At the same time, the direction, mixing, and strength of the breaths are transmitted into wind from a grid of fans which alter the form of a thin sheet of translucent plastic. The plastic is a physical representation of the unclaimed airspace, rippling and shifting according to the actions of the humans below. The interaction helps the visitor reconnect their body to the ephemeral air that we all rely on, simultaneously empowering them and reminding them of our collective responsibility," explains a statement on Coleman's website.

As a professor, Coleman says he's devoted to imparting the information and ideas that intrigue him. "I teach because I love to share and brainstorm with others. It is part of why I do as much of my work as possible with open-source tools as well as support them." And this ambition to share his experience with his students is continually fed by Coleman's own curiosity. "Typically, it is my experimentation with new technologies that gets me excited to bring those technologies into the classroom and then push my students to see what they do with them," says Coleman.

Installation view. Courtesy the artist

Chris Coleman plans to continue showing the Secure Shell Copy Series and his ongoing W3FI project will be featured in an exhibition called CYBERCY: Exploring the Post-Internet Human Matrix, which opens on May 5th at the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Colorado Springs. Keep up with Coleman's work on his website.

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