Carson Center’s Smith co-curates ‘STREAMING’ exhibition
calendar icon06 Feb 2020
Lincoln, Neb.--Assistant Professor of Emerging Media Arts Ash E. Smith has co-curated the exhibition “STREAMING” now on display through March 13 at the gallery@calit2 at the University of California San Diego’s Qualcomm Institute.
“STREAMING” is a research platform and exhibition that considers the ecological and social impacts of networked culture streams and the possibilities and limits for their calculation.
Streaming is about the physical internet. Streaming is a real-time, simultaneous, massive transfer of live data happening around us all the time. Streaming seems light, but is heavier and more carbon-intensive than it appears. This digital immediacy is ecologically expensive and energy-intensive. Places and populations bear the actual weight of the virtual.
“STREAMING” features streaming scenes: surveillance, selfies, substrates, and subliminal messages, that pass across the internet, digital and physical, live and archived. The curators are taking existing live streams and re-presenting them in a new platform format in the gallery.
Stream online @ streaming.energy.
The exhibition is curated by DELUGE, a media-design collaboration of Smith and Stephanie E. Sherman that creates immersive channels to connect art and culture with science and technology, along with Robert Twomey, an artist and engineer.
Smith said the exhibition came out of her own research.
“I had been shooting a film project in North Carolina on data centers and my town,” she said. “I grew up in Appalachia, and Apple is there, Facebook is there, and Google, they form a triangle around the town. And so I was really thinking about the effects of the physical internet on the environment, places and populations, specifically where I grew up. The notion for some people that data centers even exist, that the ‘cloud’ is not up in the sky. The cloud is using water resources, or, in some cases, solar and in many cases replacing food farms. So connecting the physical internet with the environment is a huge part of this project.”
Smith and Sherman began thinking about that more in relation to streaming.
“Similarly as some people think if something is in the cloud, that it is light, or that it doesn’t take up much space. Streaming works in a similar way, where people don’t physically own the thing anymore, they just stream it,” Smith said. “It’s actually connecting that every time we stream something, there is a carbon cost, which then links to the environment. There has to be these places where things are being streamed from—they have to exist somewhere.”
As part of the exhibition, they have built a website platform that not only hosts the work they curated, but working with researchers at the Qualcomm Institute, will count and calculate how much the show is costing, in terms of the environmental impact. These streams provide a trove of data that is then calculated via an interface developed by the Pacific Research Platform, which calculates the carbon impact of the exhibition to the fullest extent possible. Led by researcher John Graham, the PRP will use the show’s amalgam of cultural data to integrate calculations that convert bandwidth consumption and website visitors to CPUs.
The Pacific Research Platform (http://pacificresearchplatform.org/) is a partnership of more than 50 institutions, led by researchers at UC San Diego and UC Berkeley and includes the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, and multiple research universities in the U.S. and around the world. The PRP builds on the optical backbone of Pacific Wave, a joint project of CENIC and the Pacific Northwest GigaPOP (PNWGP) to create a seamless research platform that encourages collaboration on a broad range of data-intensive fields and projects.
Some of the artists included in the exhibition include Ben Kreimer, whose piece titled “Pipelines” sonifies Wifi, Bluetooth and cellular frequencies in the gallery, modulating according to visitor activity.
“In his piece, it’s set up in the middle of the gallery, and you can literally play with it by sending text messages. Interacting with this invisible architecture will make the sound change, and you can ‘hear’ this invisible world, of another kind of constant streaming,” Smith said.
Artist Calum Bowden’s “Biological Computer” constructs a microcosmic biome and data loop set up as an aquarium at TRST in Berlin, Germany, that is using the output from “Streaming.”
“There’s a live video feed of that aquarium in Berlin that’s being supported by the streaming of this show,” Smith said.
Eunsu Kang and Donald Craig’s “Streaming Fauna” speculates on a new branch of a family tree evolving from Aural Fauna, an unknown organism imagined by AI that lives in the streamed space between network nodes. Ingrid Burrington’s “Everything Has a Resonant Frequency” is a performative essay that addresses healing crystals, mineralogical foundations of computing, and the overlaps between the two. Lauren Lee McCarthy’s “SOMEONE” records a smart home experience that replacing virtual assistants with remote human operators. Hyphen Lab’s “Ruby Cam” reimagines user-controlled wearable surveillance systems as a means for protective and deflective video capture. “ScreenSaver Collection” by Everest Pipkin offers non-repeating and predictable screensaver landscapes of 24-hour water, plants and lights (stage), type 2 barricades, jewel box, work lights, and Monopines Cell Tower.
Some of the live feeds that already existed that are being incorporated into the show, include the Amazing Fish Cam, which was one of the first live streams set up by Netscape in the Silicon Valley; the La Jolla Shores Cam; and the One Dollar Hotel, a hotel in Japan where you only pay $1 to stay there if you live stream yourself.
Smith hopes visitors begin to see the digital world differently and understand the environmental costs. A full description of all streams is available at https://go.unl.edu/7u9h.
“I hope viewers connect environmental cost and environmental impact of the physical internet and start to think about the connection between our physical devices,” Smith said. “Sometimes you’ll hear a lot of people say, especially in solidarity with Greta Thunberg and her work on climate change, ‘Well, I’m not going to travel anymore. Instead, I’ll just Skype in, and that will save the environment.’ And we are thinking in terms of ‘Does it really?’ We don’t have the answer to that yet, but we are using the show as a research question to really start to think about the energy output and start computing all those aspects to streaming.”
Streaming is also a cultural phenomenon that isn’t going to go away.
“The fact that we are always sending data to the clouds, whether it’s our IP address that locates us, but also culturally. We like streaming our lives through Instagram, or staying in a hotel to get it cheaper, or being able to look at the fire cam for safety or the Platte River Timelapse. We’re not turning back from this. I think that’s really interesting from a cultural phenomenon,” Smith said.
It ties to her work in emerging media arts at the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts at Nebraska.
“One of our jobs in the university is to point a critical lens at emerging technology to think about what is possible,” she said. “It’s not to say we have all the answers down, but I think with emerging media, we can shape new technologies, and we can shape new systems, and we can shape new kinds of programs so that we can start to think about offsets and things like that.”
There are two special events scheduled as part of the exhibition. On Feb. 7, there will be a Cultured Data Symposium at the University of California San Diego that will examine “How can data science and the arts and humanities learn from one another?” Shannon Mattern will provide the keynote. Visitors will participate in a gallery walkthrough and reception. For more information, visit https://cultureddata.net.
A second event on March 12 at 5 p.m. will feature eco-streaming with Bowden at the gallery.
Smith said she would like to re-stage the show and possibly bring it to Nebraska in the future.
“We’re dealing a lot with water because we are in California,” she said. “But we had the idea that if we brought the show to Nebraska, could we work with wind power? So that’s a thought.”
For more information on the exhibition, visit https://go.unl.edu/tdhj.