March 4, 2022
The Cloud: disenchantment
February 2022. In Buenos Aires, where I’m living for a month doing research, I join a Zoom call with Alexis O’Hara, an artist, performer, and self-taught sound artist, and Atom Cianfarani, a designer and scenographer who specializes in ecological preservation. We discuss their work in progress, The Cloud. Despite the roughly 50 degrees Celsius of separation, it takes but a few seconds to establish a firm connection.
Our reliance on virtual communication has drastically increased over the past few years, to the extent that we tend to ignore its implications for people and the environment. That’s the issue the artist duo hopes to illuminate in their artistic process. The Cloud reveals the actual effect of each digital transaction and deconstructs the mythos of the cloud, an invisible and ersatz clean space.
For some time now, the cloud has progressively been replacing filing cabinets and hard drives for information storage. Photographs, music, emails — anything goes (or stays), suggesting strong evidence of simpler and better archival techniques Yet the exponential increase in information takes large amounts of natural resources to power thousands of servers and data centre cooling systems. Never mind the fact that data backup is effected not by satellite, as the term “cloud” would imply, but rather by massive undersea cables. Hidden from view on the ocean floor, they silently feed the insatiable needs of capitalism with ever more rapid communication speeds, no matter the cost.
Eschewing didacticism, The Cloud addresses the greenwashing that marks the invention of the cloud. The research is timely, as the pandemic has exacerbated the demand for digital art, in a context of unprecedented environmental degradation. Can we develop hybrid modes of creation that are more ecologically responsible? With obsolete solar panels, Italian glass fibre, and used nets, Alexis O’Hara and Atom Cianfarani have conceived of an immersive installation in the shape of an expanding cloud. Each performance overflows with garbage culled locally, and the work is designed to be set up anywhere, with a minimum of scenography elements requiring transport. Prescient, hopeful vision of a greener future, or metaphor for the apocalyptic storm headed our way?
Intended for a forest setting, The Cloud will go through different stages of outdoor creation in the coming year to elaborate its materiality and future performance elements. The project is scheduled for a June 2022 residency at the artist-run contemporary art centre L’Écart in Rouyn-Noranda, a Respirations 2021-2022 partner. The two artists will use their time to test out different prototypes of recycled nets and invite benevolent viewers into the environment for the first time. Stay tuned!
The transdisciplinary and bilingual duo Et tu, Machine is made up of artists Alexis O’Hara and Atom Cianfarani. Named for Julius Caesar’s famous line, “Et tu, Brutus?” — Et tu, Machine recalls the betrayal of technology and the mixed curse of modern consumerism. A2 Machine refers to the fact that the machine is operated by two people whose first names begin with the letter A.
Through ecologically responsible installations and performance, the collective addresses misogyny, white privilege, heteronormativity, and global warming with a deep sense of humour and the absurd, as seen in their May 2019 project, OUFF, created at La Chapelle Scènes Contemporaines. Et tu, Machine aims to reimagine the primary function of materials and reject the demands of production, with a view to queering engineering.