Death as a Moment of Radical Continuity
Prototyped during a 10-week residency at the School for Poetic Computation, "Death as a Moment of Radical Continuity" is a counter-narrative installation (built with physical computing using Arduino and visual generative programming in openFrameworks/C++) as well as a critical theory of technology essay that interrogates the cultural value systems that are encoded into the objects that we build.
The eight-shelled Opele (Yorùbá — Nigeria) is an apparatus for divination through collective memory. It has a binary implementation not unlike the computer byte: a single unit of machine memory that contains 8-bits and can store 256 different values (0-255). Computer memory, with its limited storage and manufactured scarcity, was designed to be overwritten to make way for new information. The divination chain, however, has boundless potential. It extends itself from a physical mechanism into a field of ritualized practice that has the ability to be recast to unearth an unlimited number of interpretations depending on the context.
I am captivated by the conceptual and aesthetic symmetry of two seemingly unrelated objects — core rope memory from early software computing and the opele divination chain from my Nigerian lineage — and their distinct relationships to memory and erasure. During the pioneering of the Apollo spacecraft mission, women workers (the first being an African American lab technician named Hilda G. Carpenter) manually wove memory into computer systems, based on translating software programmed by MIT engineers. I identify with these women whose contributions, like those of my ancestors, have been relegated and untold.
As an installation, "Death as a Moment of Radical Continuity" surfaces this erasure, refiguring the opele divination chain and early forms of computer memory as mnemonic devices for me to further process and interrogate these themes through physical and visual computing mediums. Depending on the orientation of the eight shells facing up or down, a number between 0 and 255 can be drawn (as an 8-bit binary counter) and programmed to activate the core memory. A corresponding image from a forgotten archive of 256 photos from my grandmother, who has the closest link to this practice in my lineage, is programmed to respond to orientation of the shells.
The visual programming references ontological aspects of non-linear time in East African tradition where the past is an infinitely capacious realm that we are approaching rather than moving away from, contrasting Western capitalist doctrines of linear temporality that habitually prioritize future-facing progress at the expense of erasing the past. Our bodies are archives and sites of memory that cannot and will not be overwritten, despite technological attempts to render them as such.

materials Cowrie shells, ferrite rings, magnet wire, glass, openFrameworks, arduino, LED strip, Hall Effect sensors


"Fall 2019 Showcase " School for Poetic Computation, New York, NY, December 2019

selected press

"SFPC Fall 2019 Student Showcase" Creative Applications Network, January 2020

© Zainab Aliyu 2020. All rights reserved.