The Virtual Corpse
2016 - 2020, Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA)
Supervisors: Prof. Ellen Rutten and Prof. Esther Peeren
The human corpse has been converted to virtual imagery since the invention of the daguerreotype in the early nineteenth century, a technology that, in turn, gave rise to post-mortem photography as a common social practice. Almost two hundred years later, the human corpse is still transposed to the realm of the virtual, only now through the aid of social media networks and other web-based platforms. Other than the post-mortem photographs of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, however, these contemporary depictions of the human corpse are not reserved for the intimate spheres of family albums. Rather, the twenty-first century corpse is widely shared, viewed, and appropriated for various aesthetic and affective purposes. In the online world, the human corpse is both sensational marvel and political instigator; shock site fodder and activist tool. Considering these depictions of the human corpse and their shift from private object to public property, this research project investigates the ethical implications of the human corpse’s virtualization. Through an analysis of various case studies from social media history (both fictional and lived), it seeks to outline how the sociocultural perception of the dead human body is altered once it is moved to a virtual space.