Your Digital Assets: Artists Weigh In

Posted by: Elizabeth Russell

For awhile now, lawyers and legislatures have been working on an important question: what happens to your digital assets after you die? How will your representatives find and access your email, passwords, social media accounts, online banking and medical records?

This question isn’t exactly breaking news. Lawyers are adapting to the reality that estate planning must provide for digital as well as physical assets; and several states have adopted versions of the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act.

But now, at least one artist is creating work from the online histories of…(consenting) dead people. Consenting? Yes. You choose to participate, while you still walk the Earth.  It’s called the Hereafter Institute, and it’s art. It’s a project of artist Gabriel Barcia-Colombo that (according to the Los Angeles Times) “examines the ways in which we memorialize our dead in the digital age, and what happens to our data when we die.”

It looks like a commercial enterprise. The project’s website has all the familiar tabs: About, Services, Team and Contact. Dig deeper, though, and you’ll see that the team members are artists; the “hereafter consultants” are all actors. And they need you, to create the work. If you participate, a digital body scan will “preserve [your] body in a digital environment.” You will receive “options” for storing your data in everyday physical objects that will outlive you. The team will craft for you, “a new way to say goodbye” based on the digital presence you cultivated during life.

The LA Times reporter, Carolina A. Miranda, submitted to the process and reports that it’s all “a bit disconcerting.”

See? It’s art.

Image: Skye Bolluyt ’15, 3D invention

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