Unfixed Infrastructures and Rabbit Holes
15 April – 7 May 2021
Aksioma | Project Space, Ljubljana
A deer is wandering through a data center. The beast looks scared of the sound he makes by walking on the technical floor, of the cables scattered around, of the flashing lights of the server. How did it get there, under those artificial lights, in that space that is supposed to be hermetically isolated from the outside? The low res footage, probably recorded by a security camera, gives the touch of reality to this otherwise magical and unreal picture of a living being sifting through flows of data.
Shown on a vertical screen, the video is the centerpiece of Unfixed Infrastructures and Rabbit Holes (2020), a multimedia installation by Spanish artist Mario Santamaría. Traditionally, rabbit holes are perceived as a backdoor between two different dimensions: it’s through a rabbit hole that Alice gets her first access to the wonderland. Yet, is networked space really different from physical space? Does it lack any materiality? Does it rely on a different notion of space and time? Since 2010, Santamaría has been investigating the physical manifestations of data and information, and questioning the metaphor of the cloud that, before becoming “common faith”, has been widely used by anybody who registered a patent concerning the internet and whatever networked device, as demonstrated in the work Cloudplexity (2019), a collection of Internet representations extracted from the U.S. Patent database. In 2016, Santamaría “tracerouted” the data of his website to follow their movement from his server (located in Bergamo, Italy) to his own computer screen; then he followed this path, traveling from Barcelona to Bergamo through Switzerland, Stockholm, Milan and Perugia. It took 14 days for him to do the same journey that data performs in 50 milliseconds: an absurd, illogical journey if we look at it in human terms, as it’s far from being linear, but that visualizes the infrastructure along which data is moving. With a similar intention, since 2018 Santamaría has been organizing “Internet Tours” in various places, bringing groups of people around a city in search of the nodes of the local network.
In Unfixed Infrastructures and Rabbit Holes (2020), the floor of the exhibition space is partially covered by a technical floor, normally used to hide cables in data centers. Wired black tubes scattered around the floor form an artist designed router, generating an open network identified with the icon 🕳. The “rabbit hole” network has been programmed to send the signal to different geographical locations before arriving at the exhibition spot, seeking the maximum possible route allowed by network protocols, thus accumulating a certain amount of delay that becomes visible through another video work: two screens (one connected to the gallery wifi, the other to the “rabbit hole” network) displaying the live feed of a Foucault pendulum. Through an explicit reference to Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ Perfect Lovers (1991), the work manifests the materiality of digital time, usually unnoticed as data seems to travel in no time.
Allowing us to look through the “consensual hallucination” (William Gibson) of the cloud (formerly known as cyberspace), these three main installation elements (the partially installed technical floor, the deer in the data center and the imperfect lovers) help us to become aware of the physical, corporeal relationship we have with certain infrastructures, supposedly fixed and invisible, but that can be easily re-engineered.
Mario Santamaría (Spain, 1985) works across a wide range of media, frequently using photography, video, performance, websites and online interventions. His research focuses on the phenomenon of the contemporary observer, paying attention to both the representations of the world and the devices of vision and mediation. His work includes topics such as digitization, networks, infrastructures, body and algorithms. His work has been shown at MACBA and Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona, ZKM Karlsruhe, WKV Stuttgart, Edith-Russ-Haus Oldenburg, CENART Mexico, Arebyte London, Münchner Stadtmuseum, Das Weisse Haus Vienna, and in the Biennials of Thessaloniki, Havana and Lyon among others. He was also finalist in the Post-Photography Prototyping Prize of the Fotomuseum Winterthur and included in Watched! Surveillance, Art and Photography by the Hasselblad Foundation.
Author: Mario Santamaría
Production of the exhibition:
Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana, 2021
Acción Cultural Española (AC/E) through the Programme for the Internationalisation of Spanish Culture (PICE) in the framework of the Mobility grants; the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia and the Municipality of Ljubljana.