A BIT IN THE ABYSS
Harvard University’s metaLAB has created a unique, multisensory experience that embodies the Internet Archive’s mission: to store all of the world’s knowledge in digitized form. Inside a shipping container, mirrors will reflect the the blinking indicator lights of a “Petabox,” the digital storage server designed by the Internet Archive for the networked curation of digital data. The light reflecting in all directions and the audible processing of data will create a confusing, prismatic, infinite effect of light and sound. The design and title of the project riffs on the French phrase“mise-en-abyme,” which translates as “to place in the abyss,” a position the participant will feel inside the container. The phrase evokes the existential and aesthetic condition of information storage; as we digitize recorded knowledge, it falls into a virtual abyss, one of abstraction.
Project sponsored by
THE EAGLE LEASING COMPANY
In partnership with the
BERKMAN CENTER FOR INTERNET AND SOCIETY
metaLAB is a research and teaching unit at Harvard University dedicated to exploring and expanding the frontiers of networked culture in the arts and humanities. It is founded on the belief that many of the key research challenges and opportunities of our era— fundamental questions regarding experience in a connected world, democracy and social justice, the boundaries between nature and culture— transcend divisions between the arts, humanities and sciences; between the academy, industry, and the public sphere; between theoretical and applied knowledge.
“A Bit in the Abyss” exposes the vast expanse of digital space in sound and vision. Entering a shipping container, the visitor’s vantage point suddenly shifts as she steps through the 3-foot wide aperture into an unexpectedly boundless space. The mirror-lined interior presents the blinking lights of a centrally installed computer server, reflected infinitely deep in all directions. A synchronized soundscape, sonifying real-time data transmissions, interpolates a bed of cosmic noise as the visitor floats through data space. As the first spacewalkers propelled our understanding of interplanetary space, this installation interrogates the outer limits of digital space, storage, and memory. The container, a physical volume for storage and transportation, serves as a portal to experience the storage and transmission of digital information. Both the container and the web represent a type of anti-architecture, aesthetically non-designed mobile infrastructure, or quasi-objects, of terminals, connectors and networks.
Cristoforo Magliozzi is the Director, Cinematographer, and Editor of Cold Storage, an interactive documentary exploring the Harvard Depository. The web extension of the film, with its database of additional time-tied media, fits Cris’ continued pursuit of interactive storytelling which has spanned from his undergraduate studies in literature back in 2011 through his subsequent work for Students of the World, Greatist, The White House, and Techstars Boston in roles encompassing various modes of making and strategy. Whether delving into the stories of non-profits, startups, or institutions, Cris is driven by the evolving palettes for designing and showing multimedia stories as well as the conversations they catalyze about society today and the world of tomorrow.
Jessica Yurkofsky is a designer with roots in ethnography, computer science, and place-making. She graduated from the urban planning program at Harvard GSD, writing her masters thesis on seniors’ use of social media as a means of accessing dispersed social spaces and community. She was subsequently part of the team behind Library Test Kitchen and LABRARY. Jessica’s interests include all kinds of libraries, visualizing big data, and generally building things.
Krystelle is a student pursuing her Masters degree in Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. As a designer with a background in computer science, she has developed an interest in creating narratives through data and investigating ways in which digital interventions can become an organizational and participatory tool within existing social interactions. She is currently working on the Arnold Arboretum Data Artifacts project.
Marshall is a curious designer with an investigative body of work. She has passion for color, smells, culture, the real and the surreal, the known and the unknown. She believes in exploring and improvising with both digital and analogue technologies and believes that design should be a great, unexpected experience. Marshall joined us in 2015 after finishing an MFA degree in Graphic Design at Boston University.
Matthew Battles is associate director of metaLAB at Harvard and a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. He has written about the cultural dimensions of science and technology for such venues as The American Scholar, The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, Harper’s Magazine, and The New York Times. Matthew has published extensively on the history and changing roles of libraries in culture; his book Library: an Unquiet History (Norton) is available in eight languages worldwide and has been in print since 2003. In addition, he wrote the official history of Harvard’s Widener library, and is coauthor, with Jeffrey Schnapp, of The Library Beyond the Book (Harvard 2014). His forthcoming volume, a material and cultural history of writing entitled Palimpsest, will appear in Summer 2015.
Sarah Newman is artist-in-residence at metaLAB at Harvard, and an affiliate at the Berkman Center. Working primarily in the area of photography, she puts appropriation, collaboration, and whimsy to work in discovering spaces that fuse physical, virtual, and imaginary worlds. Newman holds a BA in Philosophy from Washington University in St. Louis and an MFA in Imaging Arts from the Rochester Institute of Technology; she has shown work in New York, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, and Washington DC, and has held artist residencies in Germany and Sweden. Previous projects engage the human-altered landscape, movement through place, longing, and the contextual understanding of self. Her work at metaLAB explores the remix of past and future memory, the dark abundance of photographic archives, and feral intersections of the human and the nonhuman. Sarah is eager to work with people of many disciplines, employing and transcending the aesthetic to bring art into broadly-connected dialogue with place, networks, and selves.