“One day we had a conversation where we figured out we could just try to predict the stock market. And then we decided it was illegal. So we stopped doing that.” –Eric Schmidt*
What does the internet look like?
We’ve all seen the blue hologram-like mazes representing the “information super highway”. As much as vfx artists and animators conjure up visualizations of the web, very few have actually seen how the internet (or what actually stores and connects data) looks like: massive server farms entangled with cables, pipes and steel. And it seems that internet giants (like Google) want to keep it that way. Other than the obvious security concerns, perhaps it’s not that flattering for their image to see the physicality of the network, in it’s cruel unflattering daylight.
John Gerrard, an Irish-born artist, is keen on seeing what the internet actually looks like, and he followed this question up by checking out one of Google’s server farms himself (the one in Oklahoma), wanting to create a piece; a digital portrait, of the internet from the outside.
After a long back-and-forth email exchange with Google, he was denied access to the farm. It’s interesting how we can see every street on earth with Google maps, have Google Earth, yet when someone wants to take a photo of the street where Google’s farm is, it’s out of bounds. Following the cops’ advice of “hey, the air is free”, Gerrard hired a chopper and photographed the farm from above. The sight was quite sobering, reminding him of a pig farm.
These images (2500 of them) where then used to create a hyperrealistic virtual portrait in 3D; a digital sculpture (powered by a game engine) of the real data farm. This piece, titled Farm, was just exhibited at the Thomas Dane Gallery in London.
The whole process and the piece itself makes me wonder about the desert of the real. The internet does not come out of “nowhere”. For it to exist and function there needs to be a physical container. And the same goes for our devices, ending up most often than not in landfills after a few years.
When the answer to a simple question as how does the internet look like can “legally” be answered by creating an immersive simulation in order for everyday people to see it, it makes me think that digital artists are asking the most interesting questions.
Images by John Gerrard.
The Guardian’s in-depth article about Farm can be found here.
*when talking on Google trends. Reinventing Discovery, p. 95.