TheDutch Savannah

De Domijnen Sittard

Netherlands

Deep sea data cables provide our fast internet connections and make landfall in sites called landing points, from where the connection is further distributed via land. These cables connect trading hubs like London, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Amsterdam, following the old trading routes from colonial times. The Netherlands has become one of the largest hubs for internet traffic worldwide. With the exhibition The Dutch Savannah, we take a closer look at water’s role as a fundamental yet usually overlooked component of the infrastructure that supports the internet. We thus explore the connection between the online and the physical world, delving into the political and ecological implications that imply the digital sphere. We’ve borrowed the title The Dutch Savannah from a lecture Frank Stella gave in Amsterdam in 1984. This title addresses the question of how to best utilise our natural resources by phrasing it as a hyperbole: the lowlands and our eternal battle against the sea, all of a sudden faced with drought.

 

Huge amounts of data are produced and stored. For example, one transaction using the online currency Bitcoin is calculated to use as much energy as a regular household in an entire week. The volume of data grows exponentially and doubles in volume nearly every 18 months. Where does all that data go?

 

Our digital data does have a physical counterpart. To accommodate the exponentially growing amount of files accumulated by the networked society, data storage centres continue to expand. Since server farms require vast amounts of energy to operate, the impact on our natural resources and climate is considerable. Substantial volumes of water are used to air-condition computer farms, taking its toll on overall reservoirs. Despite the abundance of organic and liquidity metaphors (the cloud, data farms, the flow of information) the internet is actually not fluid nor free: it is physical, often with a heavy carbon footprint. Water is the most trusted element in the universe and the largest common denominator for all of mankind. While water used to be a prime resource and basic human right, it is increasingly used to support our digital selves instead of our physical bodies. But what are this development’s repercussions, risks, and alternatives?

 

Our ever-expanding use of data has enormous effects on the usage of power. It is clear now that our natural resources have become precious materials susceptible to being devoured by the increasing amount of digital data. Therefore, finding sustainable alternatives has become crucial. Large corporations such as Microsoft and Facebook are forced to find creative solutions to safeguard their data and ensure its cooling: for example by storing it in the arctic, in caves and, most recently, at the bottom of the ocean.

 

From the cloud to the deepest seas, our landscape and ecology are in flux. What happens to the landscape when we reroute our natural resources to our lives on the web? In The Dutch Savannah, we delve into the ecological consequences of the expansive flow of data and reflect on the environmental impact of our technological consumerism.

 

Barbara Cueto & Bas Hendrikx

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