Digital Shaman Project

The Digital Shaman Project proposes a new mode of mourning, in keeping with the technical advances of today. A 3D-printed mask of the deceased’s face is placed on a domestic robot installed with a motion program that mimics the physical characteristics―personality, speech, gestures―of that individual, as if possessed by their spirit. The program functions for 49 days* after the person’s death (the traditional Buddhist period of mourning in Japan), during which family members can experience a simulated conversation with the deceased, as if he or she were still alive. On the 49th  day, the robot bids farewell to the bereaved and the program shuts down. The program is thus designed to allow the bereaved to spend 49 days with a robot, seemingly possessed by a medium of the deceased. The author says that she developed the concept after her grandmother’s death, when she personally experienced the role the funeral serves as a mourning ritual for those left behind. While the realm of alchemy and belief appears to be conflicting with that of science and technology, considering the common disposition of religion assuming and suggesting “something that is not here,” Ichihara proposes that both might in fact be very closely related, mutually compatible fields. Based on this idea, this project was conceived with the aim to propose new forms of prayer and entombment in the age of advanced science and technology.

The experiment is part of a research project on funeral rites as a window into the uniquely Japanese approach to life and death. This is one of a series of works on “digital shamanism” that attempt to blend Japanese folk beliefs with technology.

*According to Buddhist belief, it takes 49 days for a deceased person to enter the next life.

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