Artist Aram Bartholl integrates data into physical space with his recent Dead Drop project, installing USB drives into the walls of public buildings for passersby to connect with. One of a series of interviews brought to you by the Heineken Ideas Brewery.
How does your work seek to reimagine the idea of data in everyday life?
I’m intrigued by how digital space leaks into our real life world. My work is the literal translation as it connects data to the physical world. Think Google markers in their actual, physical, designated location.
Do you think the web can become even more intertwined with physical space?
Yes, certainly. It’s already happened. There’s always a pair of terms like analog and digital that are woven into each other. Now you can barely make the distinction, but what I find interesting are the gaps. For instance, the gap between the super techie crowd and people like my parents.
We loved your Dead Drops project, where you installed a series of USB flash drives into publicly accessible building walls in order to create an anonymous peer to peer file sharing network. What interesting findings came out of this project?
Dead Drops was an unexpected success. It has yielded many variations and the idea has been used as content and for marketing apps and software. For me it was fun to see how the project grew by itself. It became a collection of very personal data, file sharing, and bits of art and music. It doesn’t have the same qualities of social media, it’s about slowing down and the picture of physical storage cemented in the wall as opposed to floating around in the cloud.
What do you think the future holds for data and physical space? Do you think people will be more open to it?
I think data is entering physical space in many ways right now, ways we are not even aware of. Projects like Dead Drops are very literal in that sense, but I think it’s important to defend the openness and neutrality of the internet. People keep forgetting the advantages of digital space. I can give you this drawing I just made, you have it now, and I don’t have it any longer. But in digital space, I can send you pictures and we both have them! Isn’t that great?! It’s a big advantage, people keep forgetting that, and soon this will also affect physical objects that are created through 3D printers like makerbot.com and thingiverse.com. I am hoping people are open to this because it’s going to be huge!