Evan Roth’s practice visualises and archives culture through unintended uses of technologies. Creating prints, sculptures, videos and websites, his work explores the relationship between misuse and empowerment, and the effect that philosophies from hacker communities can have when applied to digital and non-digital systems. His recent work has taken the form of various ‘internet pilgrimages’, seeking to better understand the network landscape by exploring its physical manifestations.
Internet Landscapes: Sydney, 2016, is a web-based project that aims to offer simultaneous experiences of the internet’s physical, digital and cultural landscapes. The third in a series of similar explorations conducted in the UK and New Zealand, this iteration grew out of extensive research and documentation of Australia’s main internet submarine fibre-optic cable landing locations. Roth visited roughly a dozen such locations, between Oxford Falls, Brookvale, Paddington, Alexandria and Sydney, and documented his surroundings in infrared video.
The use of infrared is in part a reference to the architecture of the internet, as infrared laser light is transmitted through fibre-optic cables. The resulting footage provides the content for a website, hosted on a server in Sydney. When a viewer visits the website the video is paired with a network traceroute, a computer network diagnostic tool that traces the packets of data as they flow from the user’s computer to the video file. In order for the video to reach the viewer’s browser it is converted into infrared laser light and passes through the same location depicted in the video. The URL, or web address, of the piece is constructed from a GPS coordinate, which simultaneously functions both as an address in the network and on the globe. If the URL is pasted into Google Maps, it will take the viewer to the exact position of the camera used to film the video.
This blending of the physical and virtual is very much in line with the Biennale’s interest in new ways of folding the world ‘into’ the self. The Internet Landscapes series connects the viewer physically to an infrastructure that disappears entirely under the ground and oceans, but also alludes to the slowly eroding optimistic and egalitarian values that, for many, characterised the earlier incarnations of the internet. The in-between space is simultaneously the space between land and sea, digital and virtual, past and present, and freedom and control. In approaching the internet’s physicality, Roth reveals the network not as a mythical cloud, but as a man-made and controlled system of wires and computers. Yet, for Roth, visiting the internet physically is also a search for optimism, an attempt to repair a relationship that has changed dramatically as the internet becomes more centralised and monetised, and is used increasingly as a mechanism for global government surveillance.
Internet Landscapes: Sydney Network Located Videos by Evan Roth (2016)