We have grown used to the absence of death and dying in our current visual culture.This is directly tied to trends of ageism in the media because death naturally follows the aging process. It is common to exclude both from media representation because they go hand in hand. In creating Sylvia as speculation on aging digitally on social media, we intentionally brought attention to her death. We designed a celebration of her life in order to hold space for remembering her. While she was not a real person in the way we might consider “real,” her relationships and interactions were tangibly felt by her followers.
Sylvia was a part of the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam (IDFA)’s DocLab program. As Sylvia’s life played out in the months prior to the festival, the event culminated in her death and we held her memorial online during the festival. We designed this celebration with three main funerary customs in mind: a wake, flowers, and a ceremony marking her “burial.”
We created the wake space in a way that grouped people together based on how they knew Sylvia. Each room was designed to remember Sylvia in the way they encountered her. Flowers made up a large part of the visual motifs in each wake room because they are emblematic of funerals and memorial celebrations.
On the main screen of the wake room, we played a video highlighting moments of Sylvia’s life. In memorializing a person, not everyone who is there knows every detail about the person’s life and not everything is on social media. We chose to add information that was not revealed in Sylvia’s Instagram feed to a concluding video.
As the event began, we moved into eulogizing Sylvia. Her creators, the people behind her, are her family. Each person who contributed to her virtual existence spoke about what she meant to them, and each eulogy celebrated who she was from their perspective. Two followers also eulogized Sylvia, giving some perspective on what it was like to observe Sylvia’s life passing before them on Instagram.
Finally, we wanted to mark Sylvia’s passing with a ceremony that showed her image passing away to become something different. An integral part of funeral rituals is observing and acknowledging that the person who has died is becoming something different from what they were. As we considered what Sylvia was made out of (pixels) we resolved to transform her into a different type of data: sound.
Inside the Ceremony Room, there was the texture map of Slyvia’s face, and viewers were invited to listen as this image was turned into music. There was a digital offering of flowers that viewers could choose from to leave as a token for Sylvia. Over the course of the celebration event and the festival, her face texture was covered in flowers symbolizing her influence.