This Saturday, I had the pleasure of being at the closing celebration for the "Day of the Dead" art exhibition at the wonderful SomARTS center in Soma, SF. There were a ton of excellent "Day of the Dead" themed art installations all over the place, including my friend Niloufar Talebi's very moving video installation "everybodydies."
I have to say that the most provocative piece for me was a "Social Media Altar" created by Oakland artist Howard Katz. Upon first glance, it looks like a modern version of a tribute to someone who has passed, with computer screens substituting for more traditional media. But examining it, I realized that the images were actually all pulled from someone's digital footprint, from Facebook specifically.
With a little trepidation, I put in my Facebook info into a laptop next to the exhibit. Within seconds, the altar refreshed and populated with images from my own Facebook profile and history. That's my profile pic on top of the altar. A pic of me with friends and dancing at a recent swing event are also there. A comic book that I favorited and a song a recently listened to were on a simulated hardcover and record player.
There was even a fake obituary written on the NY Times that read:
Rik Panganiban was a victim of the SomARTS Mayan Apocalypse. He is survived by his sister Cori Kaylor and his Facebook friends like Abigail Joseph. His last words were : "Pretty smart with the interwebs. Gotta dancing bug."
Viewing my own funeral altar, I have to say that I was not unhappy with the story that it told about me. The profile pic was me with the sun on my face on my commute to my job at the Cal Academy, which I love working at. Another pic shows me with some swing dance friends in New York in a Brooklyn bar, where we were stalking one of our favorite jazz bands. The left image is me dressed in my best approximation of Jazz Age finery for the Great Gatbsy Lawn Party this past summer. The comic book showed off my nerdy side. All important slices of a life I feel fortunate to have lived.
That said, there are important parts of me that were missing: my family, my Quakerism, my world travels, all the other great jobs I've had, my best friends and girlfriends of the past. None of that is visible on this altar.
After a few minutes of looking at my own funeral altar, I was getting a little creeped out as people were walking by, looking at the altar and then back at me. I was relieved when someone else went up to the laptop and replaced my images with ones pulled from her own digital footprint. That said, it was a very interesting way to think about with what kind of online trail I was leaving about myself, even after I've left this mortal coil.
(Another similar take on this is the "Museum of Me" created by Intel.)
There were many other interactive exhibits at the show, including recording booths for leaving memories of loved ones or hopes for the future, newspaper prayer beads that you create and string and prayer candles that you can light. I enjoyed coloring my own skull using markers under black light along with kids and adults in a dark room.
The Day of the Dead has always been one of my favorite holidays, so I am so grateful that I got to celebrate it, even if a little late this year.
Thanks, Niloufar for the invite!