Evan Roth

Landscapes

 

28 June – 18 July 2016

 

“The project started as a venture to find the Internet, but has slowly changed to the relationship between data and the landscape, and then again to the relationship between the self and nature.” Evan Roth.

Introduction

Evan Roth’s Landscapes is the fourth in Carroll / Fletcher’s series of online exhibitions (previous exhibitions can be viewed here).  The series, launched in March 2016, forms an integral part of Carroll / Fletcher’s overall programme of exhibitions and art fairs, Roth’s Landscapes series first featured in his Spring 2015 solo exhibition, Voices over the Horizon, and includes work that is available for sale.

In the autumn of 2014, disillusioned with the increasing centralisation, monetisation and corporate and governmental control and surveillance of the Internet, Evan Roth embarked on a pilgrimage to rediscover the optimism, inspiration and sense of community he had found in the Internet’s early days.  Roth’s quixotic quest began with a trip to a remote area of Cornwall, on the south-western tip of the UK, where the trans-Atlantic fibre-optic cables that carry the Internet emerge from the ocean.

In subsequent journeys to submarine Internet cable land-fall sites in Australia, France, New Zealand and Sweden, what began as a personal voyage of rediscovery evolved into a deeper investigation of, and desire to make manifest, the impact of the Internet on our everyday lives, how it structures our perception of the physical and digital world and, consequently, influences our thoughts, feelings and actions.  And, as Roth explores the cultural, political and technological contours of our natural and digital landscape, he emerges as an urgent chronicler of the contemporary sublime.

“One day, I was looking out over the dreary expanse of the desert.  As far as the eye could see, the purple steps of the uplands rose up in series, towards horizons of exotic wildness…  On such occasions, maybe, I have been possessed by a great yearning to go out and find, far from men and far from toil the place where dwell the vast forces that cradle and possess us…  And then all my sensibility became alert, as though at the approach of a god of easy-won happiness and intoxication; for there lay matter, and matter was calling me.”  Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Cosmic Life, 1916 (quoted in Jeffrey Kastner, Call of the Wild: Four Natural Duets for Richard T. Walker, 2013).

Internet Landscapes: Sydney, 2016


(Scroll right to view more)

Internet Landscapes: Sydney, Evan Roth, 2016, a series of 11 unique network-located videos (price on application)

http://s33.727473e151.235952.com.au

http://s33.734152e151.304727.com.au

http://s33.806901e151.299299.com.au

http://s33.820180e151.184813.com.au

http://s33.843574e151.144477.com.au

http://s33.844228e151.144557.com.au

http://s33.848846e151.173501.com.au

http://s33.849695e151.244546.com.au

http://s33.851451e151.286459.com.au

http://s33.851850e151.244960.com.au

http://s33.898239e151.275644.com.au

Internet Landscapes: Sydney forms part of Roth’s evolving exploration of the physical, digital and cultural landscape of the Internet and its relationship to our overall worldview. Each network-located video documents the landfall, near Sydney, of the under-sea fibre-optic cables that carry the Internet. The landscape is filmed in infra-red light, in reference to the infra-red light that transmits the signal along the Internet’s fibre-optic cables, as well as to surveillance cameras. The images are accompanied by a two-channel audio track; one channel being the ambient sounds of nature and the other from custom-designed hardware that scans radio frequencies in sync with the artist’s heartbeat. Both the camera and audio-recorder are based on equipment used in ghost hunting.

Each video forms the content of a website located on a server in Sydney. The URL, or web address, is made up of the GPS co-ordinates of the camera-filming location, and of the server hosting the video. Thus, in http://s33.727473e151.235952.com.au s33.727473e151.235952 are the GPS co-ordinates and .com.au locates the server in Australia. If the viewer pastes the co-ordinates in the search bar of Google Maps (https://www.google.co.uk/maps), an alternative exploration of the location is possible.

In making the image larger than the browser window, Roth encourages the viewer to navigate around the landscape using the scroll bar. A detailed exploration reveals a small blue forward slash in the top left corner of the image. This character, known as a path, is used extensively in computer science to specify a unique location in a file system. This path functions as a direct link to the video file on the server:

http://s33.727473e151.235952.com.au/packets.mp4

Here the video can be viewed to the size of the screen, framed by a black border (it is best viewed full screen without the bookmarks bar or toolbar) and, if mounted on a wall, it becomes reminiscent of a traditional landscape painting.

“I would also point out that there are things happening within the frame. On first glance it seems as if nothing is going on, but you should be able to notice subtle changes in light as clouds pass in front of the sun, animals, people, airplanes and boats moving in and out of frame, and changes in the wind and wave patterns. These aren’t “actions” as we are used to actions in a typical Internet experience, but actions in nature. I also think there is a performance aspect in watching the piece from start to finish. All of the things that might happen during that period (email notifications, SMS messages, incoming tweets, your impulse to move the mouse so you can see how much time is left) are all a part of the viewing experience. These clips, which are typically shorter than the length of a TED talk, can seem like an eternity to watch in their entirety (especially when viewed in the privacy of your own browser).”  Evan Roth, quoted in Domenico Quaranta, Internet Landscapes.  A Journey in Space and Time, in Evan Roth, Kites & Websites, 2016.

As Roth notes, the audio track reinforces the image’s sense of place. The experience of the work within the ambient sounds and visual clutter of our everyday environment highlights our networked condition. And for Roth the network forms an integral part of the work: when a viewer visits the website a signal travels as a beam of infra-red light through the network of cables stretching from the viewer’s computer to the server in Sydney and back. This route can be traced on the viewer’s computer by going to the terminal window (/Applications/Utilities/Terminal on Macs, or /Programs/Accessories/Command Prompt on PCs), pasting in the following line and hitting return:

traceroute http://s33.727473e151.235952.com.au (for Macs)

or

tracert http://s33.727473e151.235952.com.au (for PCs)

The path from the viewer’s computer to Sydney is traced out step by step:


(note: This traceroute was run from a computer located in Paris)

The route can also be seen graphically using James Bridle’s Citizen Ex – http://citizen-ex.com:

“Every time you connect to the internet, you pass through time, space, and law. Information is sent out from your computer all over the world, and sent back from there. This information is stored and tracked in multiple locations, and used to make decisions about you and determine your rights. These decisions are made by people, companies, countries and machines, in many countries and legal jurisdictions. Citizen Ex shows you where these places are. Your Algorithmic Citizenship is how you appear to the internet, as a collection of data extending across many nations, with a different citizenship and different rights in every place. One day perhaps we will all live like we do on the internet.” James Bridle.

A further dimension of the materiality of the work is opened up when the source code is viewed:

To view the source code in the Chrome menu bar, go to: View/Developer/View Source; Firefox menu bar: Tools/Web Developer/Page Source; Safari menu bar: Safari/Preferences/Advanced, check show Develop Menu in menu bar Develop/Show Page Source.

The code between lines 2 and 66 is written such that while humans can read it, machines cannot. In a reference to the horizon line and nodes of the network route, the star is a unicursal hexagram; a hexagram drawn with a single unbroken line often used in occult religions to symbolise the intermingling of micro- and macro-cosmic forces. Below the star we find a description of the work:

And if the viewer goes to line 110 some more human-only readable code can be found, a note of gratitude and thanks from one artist to another:

<!–hat tip Olia Lialina, view-source:http://best.effort.network/ –>

“The longer I work on this new series, the more peripheral the Internet becomes in my thinking. I’ve been using the phrase “Internet landscapes” to informally describe the work, but lately I’ve been dropping the “Internet” and just calling them “landscapes” (which I think is more true to what they are). Even though the Internet is a strong character in the narrative, the work is really more about the questioning of my surroundings and search for solutions to issues that fundamentally challenge my art practice and worldview.” Evan Roth in The Black Chamber – surveillance, paranoia, invisibility & the internet, interview with Domenico Quaranta, Bani Brusadin and Ruth McCollough.

The Landscape Series

Total Internal Reflection, Evan Roth, 2015, single-channel video, 9′ 46″, edition of 3 + 1 AP, price on application

In the autumn of 2014, as a pilgrimage to rediscover the optimism, inspiration and sense of community Roth found in the early days of the Internet, he made a trip to Cornwall on the south-westerly tip of the UK, one of the world’s most important telecommunications hubs dating back to the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cables laid there in 1870. Today, fibre-optic Internet cabling connecting the United States to Europe ascends from the depths of the Atlantic basin onto the Cornish coast carrying 25% of the world’s Internet traffic. Zigzagging and disappearing through several small beach towns, here the physical Internet meets a picturesque, untamed landscape, long steeped in tales of both communication technologies and the paranormal.

In a quixotic attempt to re-establish a spiritual connection, Roth turned to ghost-hunting technologies to record his trip and investigate the physical and virtual landscape. These strange-looking devices, including full-spectrum video cameras, thermal flashlights and electronic voice phenomenon recorders, were developed by a close-knit DIY community. They not only lent themselves to Internet-focused modifications but also re-kindled a sense of mystery and wonder toward technology. Like his ghost-hunting counterparts whose urgent enquiries into the supernatural were often conducted on sites of assumed paranormal activity, Roth ventured out with his ghost-hunting toolkit into the landscape that physically hosts the Internet, in a personal quest to visualise and reconnect with what has become so integral to contemporary life; making sense of a web which feels less dynamic, less chaotic, more centralized and more controlled.

Total Internal Reflection connects together a series of moments from Roth’s trip shot with a full-spectrum ghost-hunting camera. The audio for the piece, recorded on location, is drawn from a custom-built instrumental trans-communication device or ‘ghost box’, which scans radio frequencies at regular intervals in search of paranormal activity. The scanning of radio static blends with the ambient noises of waves and wind and the warm tones of the images to evoke a powerful sense of place.  The video formed part of Roth’s solo exhibition Voices Over The Horizon at Carroll / Fletcher.


Voices Over the Horizon at Carroll/Fletcher, Evan Roth, 2015

“Visiting the Internet physically is an attempt to repair a relationship that has changed dramatically as the Internet becomes more centralized, monetized and a mechanism for global government spying. Through understanding and experiencing the Internet’s physicality, one comes to understand the network not as a mythical cloud, but as a human made and controlled system of wires and computers.”  Evan Roth quoted in Domenico Quaranta, Internet Landscapes.  A Journey in Space and Time, in Evan Roth, Kites & Websites, 2016.

http://n57.680235e11.668160.se, Evan Roth, 2015, network-located video from the series:

http://n57.630653e11.878293.se
http://n57.675322e11.662511.se
http://n57.888698e11.688815.se
http://n57.889503e11.685638.se
http://n59.329452e18.132398.se
http://n59.329736e18.132242.se
http://n59.363142e18.254658.se
http://n48.879773e2.367629.fr
http://s36.784432e174.777591.co.nz
http://s36.787854e174.775050.co.nz
http://s36.809596e174.417374.co.nz
http://s36.810855e174.422624.co.nz

All works unique, price on application.

As part of the Kites & Websites solo exhibition and Black Chamber group exhibition, Roth continued his pilgrimage with visits to Internet landing sites in France, New Zealand and Sweden. The locations are often remote and inaccessible; not meant to be visited by land – the signs indicating the presence of the submarine cables face the ocean, unreadable by casual visitors strolling on the beach or hiking along the cliffs. With a sensibility reminiscent of a Romantic landscape painter confronted by the sublime, he used an infrared camera to shoot the images and a custom-built audio-recorder to capture the ambient sounds and scan and capture radio frequencies at intervals regulated by the artist’s heartbeat.  The use of an infrared, rather than full-spectrum, camera and two-channel recording marked a refinement in the techniques used in Total Internal Reflection, and, in a further development, the videos are viewable via websites hosted in the locations of the landscapes (see the section above for further details).


Kites & Websites at Belenius/Nordenhake, Evan Roth, 2016

“The filming requires me to be still in these locations for periods of 10 to­ 20 minutes at a time, and what I found during these moments of stillness was that I really wanted to check my inbox. After 30 seconds I would instinctively reach for my pocket to see what was happening on email/twitter/Instagram. I remember one time I was filming on top of a cliff in Sweden looking out over the water and whales started coming up for air. It was so quiet that the sounds of their breaths were strikingly loud. Despite this being one of the most beautiful moments I’ve had in nature, I was disappointed in myself as I went from witnessing this sublime moment, to feeling slightly bored, and then finally questioning whether I should post it on Instagram, all within the course of two minutes… Part of what interests me in the Internet Landscape series is the struggle to take more control over my relationship with time and how it is connected to the consumption of media, nature and the moments when I am not being social (online or in person).”  Evan Roth, Infra-red Wuthering Heights, interview with Filippo Lorenzin, Digicult magazine.


http://s33.849695e151.244546.com.au, Evan Roth, 2016, network-located video, unique, price on application.

“I see Internet Landscapes more as a series about a personal struggle to find optimism and inspiration within an environment that feels irreversibly changed. It’s reflective of the cultural and political issues that precipitated this change…  [and as an attempt] to come to a better visual and conceptual understanding of what the network is, and how it affects us individually and as a society.”  Evan Roth, Infra-red Wuthering Heights, interview with Filippo Lorenzin, Digicult magazine.

Collecting the work

Each landscape in the series is a unique work.  On purchasing the work the collector receives a monitor, a networked media player, cables, ownership of the lease to the URL and digital files of the video.  The purchase is covered by a sales contract (viewable here).

Links

Related texts:

Kites & Websites, Evan Roth with text from Domenico Quaranta
The Black Chamber – surveillance, paranoia, invisibility & the internet
, interview with Domenico Quaranta, Bani Brusadin and Ruth McCollough (full exhibition catalogue here).
Infra-red Wuthering Heights, interview with Filippo Lorenzin in Digicult magazine.

Related exhibitions:

Voices Over the Horizon
The Black Chamber
Internet Landscapes: Sydney
Kites & Websites

Related works:

Total Internal Reflection
Kites

Related articles:

http://next.liberation.fr/culture/2015/03/26/evan-roth-debris-de-fond_1228978
http://thecreatorsproject.vice.com/blog/evan-roth-physical-internet-ghost-hunting
http://www.wired.com/2015/03/exploring-internet-ghost-hunting-equipment/
http://hyperallergic.com/283973/a-pioneering-net-artist-mourns-the-unfulfilled-promise-of-the-internet
http://mashable.com/2016/03/15/evan-roth-biennale-sydney/#bU98Tus1Zuqw
http://www.fastcodesign.com/3058543/making-it/the-mysterious-infrastructure-of-the-internet-made-visible/1

Bio

Evan Roth is an American artist based in Paris whose 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 work is in the public collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Israel Museum. Recent exhibitions include the 2016 Biennale of Sydney; Electronic Superhighway (2016-1966) at Whitechapel Gallery, London; and This Is for Everyone at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Roth co-founded the arts organisations Graffiti Research Lab and the Free Art and Technology Lab and in 2016 was a recipient of Creative Capital funding.

Afterword 3

“We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.”  Peter Thiel (quoted in Elephant, Summer 2015).

“What do we mean by the web of the mid 90’s and when did it end? To be blunt it was bright, rich, personal, slow and under construction. It was a web of sudden connections and personal links. Pages were built on the edge of tomorrow, full of hope for a faster connection and a more powerful computer. One could say it was the web of the indigenous…or the barbarians. In any case, it was a web of amateurs soon to be washed away by dot.com ambitions, professional authoring tools and guidelines designed by usability experts.”  Olia Lialina, A Vernacular Web, 2005, http://art.teleportacia.org/observation/vernacular/

From an interview with Eva and Franco Mattes:

TB: Overall, how have the changes to the Internet over the two-plus decades you’ve been working affected your practice?

FM: There was a lot of idealism connected to the Internet in the ’90s, even, I would say, utopianism: that we’d finally found the technology that was decentralized and free and open sourced, that would bring about democracy, if not anarchy, on planet Earth. You could share information with the rest of the world for free in real time without any copy restrictions, without any monetary interchange. Of course, we’ve realized that it’s not that simple.

EM: We were young kids trying to make things. We both come from very narrow-minded, provincial, small places, so the Internet seemed like a place where you could get to a wider audience than you could normally if you were trying to show your work in a gallery. You could bypass traditional institutions and get in contact with audiences directly. It was really inspiring, in a way.

FM: And it’s gone.

Courtesy Eva and Franco Mattes, Thea Ballard and Modern Painters, 2016.

Hello might easily be seen as in line with Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s call, in his 1970 text Constituents of a Theory of the Media, to overcome the ‘consciousness-shaping industry’ of corporate broadcasting by harnessing media’s ‘emancipatory potential’ through interaction, feedback, and the potential reciprocity of reception and transmission. Like Nam June Paik, in his 1984 New Year’s Day satellite broadcast Good Morning, Mr Orwell, Enzensberger pushes back against the Big Brother thesis of media’s inherent complicity with sovereign power, seeing this as a paranoid fantasy of totalisation. Though such a McLuhanesque technoutopianism does indeed permeate Hello’s promise of connectivity, the tele-happening also points to something crucial that has become a central point of interrogation for many of the artists making work with and about new technologies: the exercise of power does not cease to exist over distributed networks, it simply functions differently. Time and time again, the Internet has been heralded as the harbinger of freedom, progress and the expansion of democracy. For many artists, the task is not to deny such possibilities, but to offer a deflationary, ambivalent form of engagement that stems from within the technosphere and emphasises the extent to which we all operate within a system founded on principles of algorithmic control. Even bi- or multi-directional interactive apparatuses remain apparatuses, operating at the intersection of power and knowledge and possessing, in the words of Giorgio Agamben, “the capacity to capture, orient, determine, intercept, model. Control, or secure the gestures, opinions, behaviours, or discourses of living beings”. Contrary to Enzensberger’s claim, this capactity is made even more powerful by the transformation of these living beings from spectators to participants.”  Erika Balsom, On the Grid in the catalogue for Electronic Superhighway, Whitechapel Gallery, 2016.

 

“When I’m in the field filming [the Landscape Series], I usually shoot still tripod shots between 10 and 15 minutes in duration. Because I’m recording audio (both from the ambient surroundings as well as from the radio spectrum), I need to remain stationary for the entire duration of the clip. In that sense the filming process is like a digital retreat with mandatory periods of 15 minutes of solitary meditation in nature. And what was most striking to me when I started this process was not ‘omg, this retreat into nature and being away from screens is amazing!’, it was more, ‘holy shit, this is boring’. In the beginning I found myself negotiating internally whether certain shots were worth the 15 minutes of stillness that was required. As I continued with the project, however, this perception of time became one of the most interesting aspects of the work.”Evan Roth in The Black Chamber – surveillance, paranoia, invisibility & the internet, interview with Domenico Quaranta, Bani Brusadin and Ruth McCollough.