Visiting the Internet in Warsaw: A Collection of Attempts
Commissioned by the Biennale Warszawa.
Much of today’s discussion of the Internet focuses on the promise of a digital revolution. The medium is heralded as a way of postindustrial communication: wireless, in the Cloud, a network far removed from mining, exhaust fumes, and physical labor. Yet, hiding behind this narrative of immateriality is a web of fiber optic cables, server farms, and routers, collectively producing 3,7% of global greenhouse gas emissions and amounting to an energy demand that – if the Cloud was counted as a country – would be the fifth largest in the world. In an age of climate emergency, the myth of immateriality shifts from an innocuous story to a dangerously deceptive cultural narrative, dismissing the Internet’s (and the Cloud’s) material realities in terms of resources, labor, and socio-ecological impact.
The project Material Internet Field Kit: Warsaw aims to go beyond this myth of immateriality and engage in a series of encounters with physical, tangible digital infrastructure in and around Warsaw. From the routers directing traffic to the copper cables and fiber optics, the data centers and server farms, the landing sites and base transceiver stations, this Field Kit invites the viewer/reader to visit the infrastructure behind the Internet in Warsaw, Poland, and begin to see it as the local, site-specific, tangible medium that it is.
In a collection of stories, drawings, photographs, doodles, and other impressions gathered on field visits, the Material Internet Field Kit: Warsaw presents impressions of the locality of Poland’s Internet connection, with a special focus on Warsaw. From the landing sites of submarine cables crossing the Baltic Sea and establishing connections from Denmark and Sweden to the Polish coast, to the cable backbones stretching across the whole of Poland, and the data centers dotting Polish city’s cityscape – many of them inconspicuous, often unnoticed buildings kept in shades of grays – the Material Internet Field Kit: Warsaw shows where metaphors of Clouds and instantaneous connections are disrupted, contradicted, and enhanced.
The Material Internet Field Kit: Warsaw traces these infrastructures in and around Warsaw in order to gain a better understanding of what the material reality of the Internet entails – going beyond the myth of the immaterial Cloud, in a personal, site-specific, and highly local manner. The project invites viewers/readers to do the same: to expand their own imaginary of the global Internet – and the vast amounts of energy – intensive, material-based, tangible and, most of all, local infrastructures needed to sustain it.
Vanessa Graf is a writer and artist working at the intersection of (digital) technologies, culture, and ecology. She is currently a PhD student in Media Ecology at the artistic-scientific graduate school MAKE/SENSE in Basel (CH), a Junior Fellow at IFK Vienna (AT), as well as a biology undergrad at the University of Salzburg (AT). Her research investigates Cloud infrastructures as embodied media in site-specific contexts, as well as the gap between the Cloudy stories we tell, and the material infrastructures they shroud in ambiguity.
Vanessa Graf has received several prizes and awards for her work, most recently Upper Austria’s Talent Promotion Award 2021, the advancement award of the 2020 Rauris Days of Literature, the advancement award of the literature biennial FLORIANA 2020, the media scholarship of the National Parks Austria 2020 and the Fohn scholarship 2020. Website: https://www.vanessagraf.at/.