Christopher Meerdo


LED screen, controller, media player, 2.5 x 2.5 meter

30 minute excerpt of 1000 hour loop

CHANNELING is a video work by CHRISTOPHER MEERDO, that has been part of the presentation of his new work complex at this year’s Open Studios at Van Eyck Academie in Maastricht, Netherlands during his residency there. It is using Generative Adversarial Network to generate new images from heterogeneous elements on the basis of the photos.

Meerdo’s new video works and objects are all based on his profound research of the so-called “Abbotabad material”, referencing to the Pakistani city of Abbotabad, as Osama bin Laden’s supposedly last location, where – according to an official statement by the U.S. government – he had been assassinated in 2011 and where data and storage devices belonging to the al-Qaida founder had been confiscated during the raid.

The digital library found on the Abbotabad compound consisted of ten computer hard drives, documents, DVDs, over a hundred flash drives, a dozen cell phones, and other electronic equipment, that were initially analyzed at a secret location in Afghanistan, where data forensics specialists organized and researched the material looking for actionable items relative to the United States interest in targeting Al-Qaeda. In November of 2017, the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States released the complete contents of Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad digital library collected from the raid. This release followed several previous Freedom of Information Act partial disclosures in 2015 and 2016 which included declassified material, digital novels, media articles and religious documents. This now complete collection of data includes system files, propaganda videos, software tutorials, religious audio sermons, western television shows and movies, home-movies, and document files, approximately 470,000 files in all. It was the first time that such an expansive personal archive had ever been released and shared with the public.

Understood as a repository of thinking, the archive can be read through the lens of transhumanism and can function as both the individual agency (desire, ideology, mythos) of Bin Laden, those of his family in the compound, and an aggregation of collective visual culture of a specific moment in time. Meerdo describes his approach to the material as a way of conceptualizing today’s computational resources as elementary prosthetic consciousness, that involve questioning it’s conditions and boundaries:

“Throughout my research and resulting works, there is a blurring of the edges that already are present in the Abbottabad materials: how is individual digital identity constructed? What are the constraints that limit the dissemination of an individual, family, or collective’s information? How might agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency or the National Security Agency reach into our lives? How does nationalism and xenophobia systemically emerge in these new systems? How can we respond in creative ways?” – Christopher Meerdo

Lexter Braak (former director of the Van Eyck Academie) presented his thought on Meerdo’s research and recent work in the catalog of the annual exhibition as following:

“As a hacker and artist, Christopher Meerdo is interested in the digital archive of Osama bin Laden, which the CIA placed on the internet in its entirety in 2017. The archive contains everything that was found in the compound in Abbottabad where Bin Laden met his fate. The emails, personal notes, films, photos etc. found on ten hard drives, CDs, and flash drives consisted of 470,000 files.

Meerdo regards a digital archive as a prosthesis of the human spirit, offering the possibility of a journey through the mind of its maker. The archive of bin Laden is in this sense a digital embodiment of his absent body, which was dumped in the sea immediately after his death. From a historical viewpoint, Bin Laden’s archive is a mental historical/archaeological site that offers direct access to his thoughts, longings, dreams, ideologies and ideas. In cooperation with computer scientists, Meerdo has trained 76,000 images that he found in the huge archive on a Generative Adversarial Network (a type of Artificial Intelligence) that generates new images from heterogeneous elements on the basis of the photos. The screen flickering with unstable images is reminiscent of an eternal flame.

Prior to working with the archive, Meerdo came into contact with a marine explorer who was planning an expedition to seek the body of Osama bin Laden. A video on his motivation for retrieving the “real” remains from the seabed forms part of the presentation, bringing the body, the archive, image and spirit together.

The sculptures spread around Meerdo’s studio are landscape images from the Abbottabad Compound Materials, which he made using computer fabrication techniques he has developed. Meerdo’s presentation may be regarded as a contemporary transubstantiation of the body to a digital archive, and as a reality-changing conversion from analogue to digital.”

Meerdo’s sculptural work “As Sahab/The Cloud” and his video “The Search” have also been part of the presentation at the Van Eyck Academie and are also shown in the pictures.