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May 8, 2017 | by  | in Visual Arts |
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Logical pools; puddles of nudes

Ok Google: What is the Cloud?

In the simplest terms, cloud​ computing means storing and accessing data and programs over the internet instead of your computer’s hard drive. The Cloud is​ just a metaphor for the internet.

Ok Google: Where is the Cloud?

Cloud​ storage is a model of data storage in which the digital data is stored in logical pools, the physical storage spans multiple servers (and often locations), and the physical environment is typically owned and managed by a hosting company.

 

Logical pools; puddles of nudes; viruses buried deep: I love the Cloud. I can’t stop watching tours around the data centers that operate as the physical infrastructure necessary to facilitate the collection, processing, and dissemination of data that is the Cloud. Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Oracle, Equinix; the videos all look the same and so watching them over and over feels like learning the trick to exiting a maze — important because I’ve started having dreams about getting lost in one of the data centers. How to describe a place that looks like a feeling? The centers are somewhere you might end up in a dystopian nightmare; like the Convergence in Don DeLillo’s Zero K, where bodies are preserved in order to await the medical advancements of the future; or the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, which is the Convergence but real life. I suppose I’m trying to to say that what they look like is a mechanised impression of uniquely human desires. What they look like is a place built of human intervention that any living bodies have vacated: at once foreboding and alluring.

My obsession with the nothingness that is the data farm started with Tim Wagg’s Cold Storage (2017), on display at the Dowse Art Museum as a part of This Time of Useful Consciousness — Political Ecology Now. The video work explores the shifting of the National Digital Heritage Archive from the basement of the National Library of New Zealand to a private infrastructure provider in Upper Hutt. Wagg is interested in the mammoth amounts of space, energy, and resources required to keep the Cloud’s weightless facade afloat.

Projected onto two opposing walls in a dark room, Cold Storage is an immersive experience. The camera moves unsteadily through the spaces it explores, capturing blinking lights in red, blue, green; grids which turn to abstract patterns; empty desk chairs. The soundtrack alternates between a voiceover that describes the nature of the archive, and a musical track which sounds like the auditory equivalent of a broken line of code. Before the video ends the projected images begin to glitch, the work suddenly seemingly privy to the fickle nature of the Cloud.

A good data farm provides a secure, private, and trusted Cloud. It has high availability and reliability; high efficiency; and smart scalability. What is interesting is that sustainability is integral to efficiency because lost power is lost profit. The Cloud, built on a history of infrastructure, works to optimise efficiency within the precise contemporary moment in which data moves from place to place rather than building a future that’s removed from our industrial world.

John Perry Barlow, in his 1996 paper “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace”, declares the internet a land without borders. Addressing the governments which have worked to impose the conditions of nationhood upon the floating Cloud, he writes: “On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather […] Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live.” But the Cloud has failed to become the truly weightless entity Barlow envisioned. Still bound firmly to the earth by fibre optic cables laid along colonial routes of trade, the innumerable iterative choices that the networks of the Cloud provide may masquerade as a kind of limitless mobility, but in fact work as structural impositions of control.

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