We’d wager a substantial sum of money that most of you reading this have never really considered how it is possible you’re reading this. Like television or the limitless supply of pepperoni slices at your local Pizza Hut buffet, the Internet is something that just happens.
American artist Evan Roth has evidently spent a lot of time contemplating how we’re able to waste a solid 16 hours a day flicking between the same three websites on an endless, ennui-instilling loop. His latest, Artangel-backed project, Red Lines is an investigation into the physical roots of the Internet.
An infrared series of videos shot in various locations around the globe where the very cables which bring us all the memes, harrowing news stories, and profiles of Hollywood actors we could ever ask for emerge from the briny depths of the world’s oceans, Red Lines feels like a timely probing of what the internet is and how it works.
“Back when it [the internet] felt like a magical land primarily occupied by cat videos, animated gifs and .mp3’s, there didn’t seem to be as much of an urgent need to think about the materiality of the web,” says Evan. “Now, due to repeated breaches of trust from some of the largest companies and governments, it feels like a totally natural reaction to say, ‘hey, what is this place, who controls it and how?’”
Shot across nine countries (including Argentina, South Africa, Sweden and Hong Kong) and comprising of 61 individual strands of video threaded together in a narrative which can be experienced for free by anyone anywhere with a working internet connection, Red Lines is a work with deep historical roots. Pardon the pun.
“The title, Red Lines is partially meant as a technical reference to the medium of the web as infrared light through fibre optics. It is also, however, a reference to lines of power. During the height of the British Empire it was a common map making practice to colour British controlled territories pink and outlined in a red line,” the digital artist tells It’s Nice That. “During the same time period, the All Red Line was an informal name given to the British telegraph system that connected around the globe landing only in British occupied land. Fibre optic cables today often share similar routes and landing locations, and the reference to the All Red Line is meant as a reminder to the historical ideologies embedded in the architecture of our current network.”
Evan describes the lengthy filming portion of the process as “very therapeutic, in some ways.” It has a similarly calming effect on this writer, too. Watching these barely-moving streams, streams devoid of the overload that threatens to turn the Internet into a near constantly overwhelming experience, we are reminded of how life runs at its own pace. As Evan eloquently says, during filming it “takes a while to get readjusted to moving at the speed of nature rather than the speed of the Internet.”
Red Lines, which won this year’s Artangel Open Call prize, has been described as an artwork to “live with” and viewers are asked to consider dedicating one of their (presumably many) screens to a constant screening of the project.
“For me living with artwork over a period of months or years is a very different art experience than visiting a work of art for a few minutes at an exhibition. I have been trying to live with my own work and the work of others as much as possible, which can be difficult for me (and I think many others) because living with art typically requires ownership and money,” Evan tells us.
“With net art, however, the primary viewing experience of the work is free and nearly infinitely scalable and Red Lines is working in that construct but also extending the dimension of time.” Whether you hop on for five minutes between tweets or invest days, weeks, and months into it, Red Lines will likely leave you thinking about where exactly your content comes from.