James Bridle is a writer and an artist who often makes work about virtual and material networked culture. Here, Bridle speaks about a newly commissioned work, Occupy the Cloud, which is currently on view in “Open Heart Surgery,” an exhibition organized by the itinerant Moving Museum. The show is on view at the Vinyl Factory in London until December 13, 2013.
OCCUPY THE CLOUD comes from many things, but primarily it stems from my interest in architectural renderings. I became intrigued with a certain kind of technodeterminism, which is shaping architecture through design software that can produce three-dimensional images of buildings. Those visualizations stand in for the immediate future, a technologically augmented future, which is constantly on the point of arriving but never does, as it is swept away by what we actually build, which is not always what we intended.
I thought I would make a work that would mark that impossible future as a place. I was reflecting on a recent experience with my work Drone Shadows, which I was meant to exhibit in Australia but couldn’t because the local government prevented me from carrying out an installation, even though I had been commissioned to do so. In Occupy the Cloud, I wanted to draw attention to spatial censorship, particularly in London where we’ve had a different experience of Occupy. When the city of London found out where Occupy London was going to set up, the government physically filled the intended space with metal barriers. They didn’t just bring the police force; they filled the space with actual stuff so as to make it impossible to camp out there. The UK government also just criminalized squatting, which was previously possible under common law. There used to be a potential for negotiation but now it’s simply criminalized.
Online there is also an increasing restriction of potential public spaces. The Internet bohemian dream of freedom has totally collapsed in the face of government surveillance and corporate activity. The whole space is being controlled and monetized. “The Cloud,” a marketing term intended to make Internet storage seem fluffy and easygoing, is in fact very closed and highly politicized. What we’ve learned in physical space we must bring back online to reassert the Internet as a commons. The idea is to extend digital modes of protest; data centers have physical locations and infrastructures that we could occupy.
My work is an attempt to renew the connection between public space and its curtailment and the curtailment that is happening online. The banners in the work are based on ones hanging outside squatted buildings—bedsheets hung out of windows, painted flags, and protest signage. That’s the look I was going for. But the banners themselves are quite glossy and include symbols—a circle with a lightning bolt through it (a symbol for squatting), an at sign, and a cloud—that together create a sentence. These are both a marker of occupation and an appeal to action—to occupy and transform the notion of the ethereal cloud.