Data Shadows — a film by Jacob van der Beugel

Egenis artist-in-residence (2023/24) Jacob van der Beugel is collaborating with the Phil_OS project to make a movie examining the notion of ‘data shadows’, with a soundscape composed by Felix Erskine.

Examining data that are not there, not readily available, and/or not useable towards proving claims or fostering discoveries brings us to confront the significance of what is not typically recognised as knowledge — what is invisible, tacit, ignored, denied, expected, forbidden, private, inaccessible, unknown, or unexplored.

The aim of this project is to cast a light on how research data moves around the world through the creation of a pilot film. By reimagining data as tangible physical objects that are subject to change from its very inception, we are able to burst the bubble that has taught the general public, as well as academics, that data are immutable objects that magically appear everywhere all at once.

Just as data are created from the real world, this process is visualised by Jacob as concrete casts cast with a choice of aggregates: Physical cores get extracted, and graded and polished to go into a repository. This de-contextualisation is the start of their meandering journeys, to other contexts and applications. When trying later to fit a core back into an extraction hole, some no longer fit as the core or the hole have degraded or filled, whereas others slot seamlessly together. The data shadows are what is missing, unavailable, or invisible — contrary to the naive idea of ‘data’ as solid, clear and immutable, we follow them through their journey of de- and re-contextualisation, here with patterns of light and shade that act to both clarify and obscure, and attract speculation, hinting at hidden infrastructures that change their meaning.

This project intends to be for a wider audience. Since there has been a perceived loss of human agency around data for many years, this project will reestablish the reasons how data does this and dissolve the magic that surrounds its perceived ethereality. This is one of the defining issues of our time and this project aims to bring a degree of restitution to this complex field.

The repository. All images courtesy of Jacob van der Beugel (2024).

Once completed in 2024/25, the film will be shown in various venues, as well as online and at international film festivals. With launches in Exeter, London, Munich and beyond, its thematic issues will be contextualised for a general public.