S+T+ARTS Residency: Urban Data Forest


Experiment

Urban Data Forest

How can reforming human associations with seemingly immaterial digital data, create opportunities to reimagine the nature of cities? Through a new work entitled Urban Data Forest, Grow Your Own Cloud enlarges the scope of previous work in the realm of DNA data storage. While previously focusing on plant-based data storage, this new work seeks to create an ecosystem, connected by fungi, enacting a regenerative and multispecies space in The Hague to rethink data archiving.

In this project, the materiality of data is explored, tracing links between what is considered immaterial data and the highly material aspects of data production, in particular the enormous physical and carbon footprints of cloud data centres. The project will experiment with an alternative materiality for data, developing a biological cloud to offer a highly clean and regenerative way of archiving data, while also questioning the future viability of such technology.

This biological cloud will take the form of an Urban Data Forest, acting simultaneously as an artwork that explores data archival over deep time, a physical space for new types of interspecies interactions, and a technical proof of an emerging regenerative technology. It will propose a new green urban space, with data encoded life grown and cared for by local communities. The aim is to plant the first seed of a potential future in which data centres resemble natural habitats rather than built environments.

Through a combination of technical experimentation, prototyping, collaboration with fellowship partners and citizen involvement the collective will work on prototyping a future in which sustainable data storage within the city becomes a path to realizing cleaner, greener and more prosperous cities.

Furthermore, the project will experiment with DNA data storage, biological cloud storage, data visualisation and data privacy.

Jury Statement

The jury decided to select Grow Your Own Cloud as a winner of the Repairing the Present Fellowship at Regional S+T+ARTS Centre In4Art because their project Urban Data Forest acts on the forefront of a biological cloud revolution which will reformulate our relationship with urban nature and with data in ways beyond imagination. Under the name Urban Data Forest, the collective aims to re-imagine the data cloud by creating the worlds first biological data centre within the city of The Hague. Urban Data Forest is a very creative and imaginative project, raising ethical, technical and societal questions around data storage and their environmental consequences. The potential of technical, social and economic innovation, which lies at the heart of this project, fits perfectly with the S+T+ARTS and New European Bauhaus vision of art manifesting at the forefront of new possibilities and the European Green Deal targets for sustainability and greening European cities.

 

About Grow Your Own Cloud

Grow Your Own Cloud is an art-science collective initiated by Cyrus Clarke (FR) and Monika Seyfried (PL). Since 2017, we have researched possibilities and applications of DNA data storage, exploring the materiality of data and links to climate change, while seeking to demonstrate alternative visions for the future which enrich the user experience.

Their hybrid practice involves an ethics-led process to work with genetic engineering and DNA data storage, in order to develop responsible innovations with potential for real world applications. As such, Grow Your Own Cloud is collaboration in a multidisciplinary team encompassing designers, artists, architects and scientists.

Grow Your Own Cloud has engaged the public through several award-winning works including Data Flower Shops, speculative biological data centres that serve as spaces to experience DNA data storage. More recently, they developed Data Garden (2020), a functional artistic installation that encodes and decodes data from living organisms, exhibited at events such as Ars Electronica, VivaTech, and galleries such as Bozar, Brussels. In 2020, they were Artists in Residence at Ginkgo Bioworks. Their work has been presented at the WEF and has been recognised by the EU Starts Prize and United Nations.

Acknowledgements

This project Urban Data Forest is being conducted as part of the Repairing the Present S+T+ARTS Regional Centers project.
The S+T+ARTS residency artist is Grow Your Own Cloud. The fellowship partner Wittveen +Bos.
This project has received funding from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement LC01641664