The Medium is a Medium – Intersecting Technology and Death in a More-than-human World

Technology is obsessed with death and living beyond death. Both technological developments of AI as well as cultural imaginaries in popular culture address the dream of immortality through virtual avatars, chatbots, holograms, robots, and other means. In Believing in Bits: Digital Media and the Supernatural (2019), Natale and Pasulka propose that a core belief around technology is that it can transcend the biological limit of death by creating artificial life. In the future we may all upload our consciousness – but who is allowed to live forever on the internet? This lecture performance draws on the dual definition of the term “medium” through Jeffrey Sconce’s work Haunted Media (2000) which addresses medium as mediation as well as medium as spirit contact. Why have the spiritual underpinnings of the term been overshadowed by its technical definition in media studies? Through the media archaeological method, the work approaches current technologies through its historical counterpart: the telegraph cables of 19th century Europe and United States. You are invited to join a seance to resurrect these minor histories, reflect on the colonialist origins of communication technology, and untangle the belief systems that sustain the desire to live forever.

Dr. Evelyn Wan is Assistant Professor in Media, Arts, and Society at the Department of Media and Culture Studies at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. She is the Programme Coordinator for MA Arts and Society, and teaches a range of courses on contemporary performance practice, cultural and critical theory, and research methodologies.
Wan graduated cum laude from her PhD programme and was awarded a national dissertation prize by the Praemium Erasmianum Foundation in the Netherlands in 2019. She is currently working on her book project, “How We Lost Sense of Time: A Prehistory of Algorithmic Governance”, through the lens of decolonial media studies and performance studies. Her research studies the biopolitics and necropolitics of both historical technological inventions and contemporary emerging technology. Her writings have appeared in International Journal of Communication, GPS: Global Performance Studies, International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, and Theatre Journal, amongst others.

Wan was the founder of the Future Advisory Board, an emerging scholar initiative within Performance Studies international (PSi), and served as a member from 2014-2019. Outside of her academic endeavours, she has worked on theatre projects with asylum seeker youths and has collaborated with various international artists in staging contemporary dance, physical theatre, and site-specific performances as both performer and dramaturg. Her current performance practice uses artistic research methods that intersects cultural heritage research with inter-Asian ocean histories, island studies, and gender and religious studies.