“We have become the internet, a single entity that covers the whole planet.” The voice comes from a pair of headphones connected to the back of a computer screen. The screen lays mounted on a tree stump, surrounded by books and other computer screens in a dark hall. The words on the book covers read like titles to a sci-fi novel: “Profiles of the Future,” “Global Brain,” “Metalman,” “World Wide Mind.”
The setup is part of “World Brain,” an art installation devised by Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon. It reflects on humanity’s relationship with nature in a hyper-technological age and on how our constant interaction with machines might lead to a blurring of the boundaries between our own selves and the technologies we use.
“World Brain” is one of the projects that makes up Infosphere, an art exhibition focused on the significance of data, technology and media in our time. Originally presented at the Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe (ZKM) in Germany, the works are now being exhibited at Mexico City’s National Center for the Arts (Cenart).
The term infosphere refers to the whole of information that travels the world in the form of electromagnetic signals codified, stored and transmitted by broadcasting devices, computers and other machines. These signals form an “atmosphere” of sorts that has been affecting humanity’s approach to communication, knowledge and problem solving since the invention of the telegraph in the 19th century. Infosphere presents the social, cultural and emotional significance of these changes as seen and interpreted by the arts.
Curated by Peter Weibel, Daria Mille and Giulia Bini, the exhibition is comprised of 33 projects by artists from the United States and several European countries like Spain, France, Germany and England. Ranging from photographs and documentaries to posters and art installations, every project addresses the impact of information, data and the digital revolution, presenting discourses that touch on the horrors of a techno-driven society, the possibilities that technology offers for expansion beyond human consciousness and the material consequences brought by the soft, almost ethereal world of data.
Most of the works presented employ unconventional, even innovative techniques that expand upon the repertoire available amongst the arts. “Postcards from Google Earth,” a photo-series by French artist Clement Valla, uses Google Earth’s satellite imagery to display pictures distorted by Google’s own software, illustrating not a deviation in logic but the bizarre results of a very strict pattern of computation. “Instagram Cities,” by Lev Manovich, Nadav Hockman, Jay Chow and Damon Crockett, shows images forged from processed data. The product is a group of infographics that tell stories through pure information, forming abstract arrangements that could be admired for their visual appeal alone. “Diary,” by Philipp Schaerer, takes a new approach to autobiographical narration by displaying microscopic images of relevance to his life, tightly packed together and arranged in chronological order, condensing them into a pair of images that tell his story.
Some works exhibited at Infosphere also make use of more conventional methods to address the themes of technology, data and media. Armin Linke’s trilogy — “Computer Dump,” “Cern Computer, Control Rooms” and “Cooper Mine” — uses photography to document the three stages of the machinery that supports data, bringing forth the materiality of a world that remains immaterial in our imagination. Erik Kessels’s “24HRS of Photos” comments on our extreme fondness for viewing pictures on social media through the photograph of a child laying complacently on a literal mountain of photos. “All That is Solid,” a video by Louis Henderson, shows images of Ghanaian mines where locals extract minerals used to produce components for laptops, smartphones and other high-tech devices, thus exposing the viewer to the material effects of an industry built on the flow of the incorporeal.
Not everything is standing there and staring at interesting pictures, though. Amongst the projects, there are some pieces which require the audience to interact or even navigate through them. Deougtin and Wagon’s “World Brain” asks to be explored by the viewer, giving him or her the chance to sit on one of the tree stumps and watch, headphones and all, the videos projected on every screen. Richard Vijgen’s iPad app “Architecture of Radio” shows the infosphere, represented as a tide that washes rhythmically over a blue background, to whomever grabs the tablet on display and looks through it. “The Algorithmic Trading Freakshow,” by French art collective RYBN.ORG, feels like a museum exhibition which chronicles some of the most outlandish, borderline esoteric attempts at finding a pattern within the fluctuating prices of the stock market.
On the text that introduces the exhibition, Peter Weibel calls attention to the ever increasing relevance of information and the technological means for its processing, transmission and storage, as well as to the need for art’s involvement in understanding the changes brought forth by the reign of data. “Now that the alphabet, as a code, finds itself complemented by another code, a code of numbers, algorithms have become a fundamental element within our social order — from the stock market to airports … It is of utmost importance that contemporary art, in this scenario, plays a main role in the assessment of big data,” he writes.
Infosphere will be exhibited Tuesdays through Sundays at Cenart’s Galería Central, Arte Binario and Espacio Alternativo galleries. It runs until September 3, 2017, and has no cost.