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Fiona McDermott, Artsformation’s board member, curator at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia

Our everyday lives are becoming increasingly entangled with data technologies. The Irish Pavilion addresses the utopian fantasy of the Cloud, as a romantic metaphor: The cloud is material. By foregrounding the physicality of data infrastructure and its impact on the environment the pavilion hopes to both reframe how we understand data production and its impact on everyday life.

The 2021 Irish Pavilion exhibition, Entanglement, at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, will explore the materiality of data, and the interwoven human, environmental and cultural impacts of communication technologies. The exhibition will highlight how data production and consumption territorialize the physical landscape, and examine Ireland’s place in the pan-national evolution of data infrastructure.

Ireland at Venice is an initiative of Culture Ireland in partnership with the Arts Council and the exhibition in 2021 will be curated by Annex, a collective of architects, artists, and urbanists. Entanglement responds to the theme selected by the curators of the Biennale Architettura 2021, How will we live together? The exhibition aims to raise awareness about the materiality of the global internet and Cloud services, which is interwoven with the Irish landscape – made manifest through the vast constellation of data centres, fibre optic cable networks, and energy grids that have come to populate its cities and suburbs over recent decades.

Ireland plays a significant historical role in the evolution of global communications and data infrastructure. In 1866, the world’s first commercially successful transatlantic telegraph cable landed on the West coast of Ireland. In 1901, the inventor of the radio Guglielmo Marconi transmitted some of the world’s first wireless radio messages from Ireland across the Atlantic Ocean to Newfoundland. Today, Dublin has overtaken London as the data centre hub of Europe, hosting 25% of all available European server space. And by the year 2027, data centres are forecast to consume a third of Ireland’s total electricity demand.

Entanglement draws from both contemporary and historical data storage artefacts as building blocks to form the structure of the pavilion. These artefacts are assembled in a campfire formation, referencing this primitive architectural space where early human civilisations formed alliances, built social networks and eventually developed complex societies. The pavilion asserts that from the burning of campfire logs to the management of waste heat generated by contemporary data infrastructure, the production and distribution of information is intrinsically connected to the production and distribution of heat.

By foregrounding these thermodynamic processes as a link between the architectures of the campfire and the data centre, the pavilion speculates on the relationship between these forms and how diverse communities converge around them in the past and into the future. Entanglement invites its audience to experience this thermal logic themselves through real-time thermographic imaging technologies that juxtapose key sites associated with data infrastructure in Ireland with traces of human activity in the Arsenale.

Artsformation has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No 870726.

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