Vito Boeckx, a graduate in multi-media design from Design Academy Eindhoven in Holland, has created a data church. Data Church is virtual reality experience that visualises the vast flow of data that surrounds us. Data from local wi-fi points become the building blocks for an urban landscape. Viewers, or perhaps I should say, devotees, put on the VR-glasses and enter a parallel world, the digital world that surrounds us. Screen recordings from nearby modems are turned into huge neon-lit skyscrapers, which emphasize the sheer scale of the digital environment when it is transformed into visuals. These digital buildings are not static but grow when online activity intensifies. Boeckx is interested in ‘making sense of something that we cannot see or grasp,’ and wants the data church to offer sanctuary for reflection about our digital behaviour. We all contribute to this invisible digital world, and the installation invites us to reflect upon that.
The idea of creating a church points perhaps to a certain moral dynamic at work here. The devotee kneels before a data altar and puts on the VR headset, a classic devotional motion, enacted throughout the ages by people of all religious and spiritual persuasions. The invitation to reflect on our contribution to this digital environment is an invitation to reflection but perhaps also toward repentance, which means that at least some portion of this installation contains a moral/ethical component. This makes me wonder about the recoding of morality in the 21st century.
As the influence of traditional religion declines, and notions of morality formed in different times lose their impact, we should make the mistake of thinking that questions of morality are a thing of the past. Religion tends to presume that the growing rejection of both religion and its ‘traditional values’ implies a wholesale rejection of values, when it is just as likely to be a problem of these institution holding onto to formulas and equations of morality that no longer fit the needs of our rapidly changing world. Data Church is an attempt to convey the world that we have made with our digital behaviour and an opportunity to take a reflective moment to consider what the implications of our actions might be.