For his new project called Shadows, artist Fernando Orellana has been designing interactive devices for the ghosts of the recently deceased. To make these devices, Fernando visits estate sales and picks a single item that he feels may have been important to the person recently passed. Then, he constructs a machine to help the ghost use the object. For example, one device called Her Bell is equipped with a simple mechanism that rings the brass bell Fernando found at the home of a deceased bell collector.
To detect the presence of ghosts, Fernando’s devices continuously monitor their immediate environment for changes in temperature, infrared light, and electromagnetic waves, factors believed by paranormal researchers to indicate the presence of a spirit. If a a ghost is detected, the device is triggered.
The Shadows project rests on a lot of assumptions. The biggest of them is obviously: do ghosts even exist? But, if you’re willing to make that leap, Fernando’s devices allow us to imagine what else might happen if ghosts really did want to stick around here on earth. “They could be sort of like scientists for the other side so we could learn about what happens after life,” Fernando says. “Or,” he told me, “they could embody robot and they could go and wash our dishes, I guess?”
While the project might have some absurd implications for ghosts, it has some serious ones for those of us still living. These machines are essentially memorials, a way for the living to pay homage to the dead. In fact, Fernando refers to them as “techno- effigies. ” He even had a woman ask him to make one for her when she dies. This response to his work got Fernando thinking about some of the deeper questions that arise when you entertain the existence of ghosts. “What you’re asking about with ghosts is: is there an afterlife? Is there a moment after you take your last breath? And if you believe in ghosts, you’re kind of saying that there is.”
I recently spoke with Fernando Orellana about designing machines for ghosts, the implications this has for the living, and what object Fernando would use in his own techno effigy. We also talked about another one of Fernando’s ongoing projects: he’s been extruding thousands of miniature cars, people, and cows out of Play Doh.Playlist:
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