Dispersal of Data

The project dispersal by kirby, a webpage composition created for the web residency »Algorithmic Poetry.« explores how locality, environmental listening, and mapping the flow of data and information streams are important categories in which resistance to colonial power could take shape. In this interview kirby speaks about their local neighborhood, a particular plant from that area, and their long-term engagement with field recording, experimental web development, data, local servers, and processes of commoning.

kirby in conversation with Lucreccia Quintanilla and Suvani Suri — Dez 14, 2023

Lucreccia Quintanilla and Suvani Suri: Your project has begun with tactile plant matter acting as the literal seed pod of your work, or the way in which you begin to engage with place. Could you speak about your process and interest in Honey Locust and your locality?

kirby: The project is located in the neighborhood where I currently live – »Footscray,« in the inner west of Naarm (also known as »Melbourne,« »Australia«). This is Marin Balluk Country, belonging to Wurundjeri peoples of the Eastern Kulin Nation.

The maps/satellite imagery on the dispersal webpage are centered above The Crescent, a street where I first came across the Honey Locust. The trees line the nature strip along both sides of The Crescent, and I was enchanted by their bright yellow leaves and curved seed pods. I brought some of the seed pods home with me, and that was the start of a long-term process of engagement with Honey Locusts.

As I learned more about this tree species, my interest spiraled. The Honey Locust seems to occupy polar positions: menace, and ornament. It’s described as a fast-growing, shady, leguminous, and »attractive« tree that’s recommended for planting in urban settings and as animal fodder. The species, indigenous to Turtle Island/North America, is also considered an environmental weed in parts of »Australia.« It out-competes native vegetation, and the dense thickets formed in part by its seed spread from grazing animals then prevents those same animals from accessing water sources. »Feral« animals also use the Honey Locust for shelter.

I’m interested in the complex entanglements of this tree’s various uses and meanings, particularly when viewed in this local context. In many ways the Honey Locust mirrors how I feel about my own body in this place – and I connect this with how other »weed« species are framed.

»I hope that by presenting environmental listenings in the web browser, that I might attune listeners/audiences to their own local environments, or encourage them into close modes of attention.«

So I continued revisiting The Crescent and collected more seed pods – which, through colder months of the year, littered the street as the deciduous tree shedded its leaves and large seed pods – and recorded myself doing so. I also interacted with the seed pods and seeds, and recorded samples of their sonic textures.

I also used a photogrammetry/3D imagery app on my phone to document the seed pods. That process required lots of patient and close attention, turning the seed pods over and over to »capture« them in images (and the photogrammetry process was new to me so it involved a lot of trial and error).

I took those 3D representations of the seed pods, and sound samples from my field recording and seed interactions, and fed them into the webpage composition. I’m also using live climactic data from the local area, with information about the current temperature, day/night length and rainfall to programmatically compose with the sound samples.

Lucreccia and Suvani: How are you thinking about the question of »publics« and »commons« in your practice? What are the kind of frameworks or propositions of »public space« that working with technology, code and networked infrastructures facilitates, in your opinion?

kirby: One of the ways that I engage with »publics« or »commons« is of course afk1, where I conduct activities like walking and recording in public space. I also hope that by presenting environmental listenings in the web browser, that I might attune listeners/audiences to their own local environments, or encourage them into close modes of attention. Another way that I’d reach for an answer to this question is by tracing some of the networked infrastructure that enables dispersal, as well as the residency more generally and this conversation we’re having now.

»How might we approach our use of the Web with more care? How might we remain mindful of what data we upload, and where, and for how long?«

I’m accessing these questions in my web browser, using a Google Doc. Google’s DNS Record points to an IP address located on Ohlone land, in »Sunnyvale,« »California,« on Turtle Island. As part of our residency the Algorithmic Poetry group met on Zoom, whose remote servers are located in various places including one in The Rocks in »Sydney« on Dharug Country. We also messaged on Telegram, whose servers are located in Amsterdam. Akademie Schloss Solitude’s web server is operated by LF Net and located in Stuttgart, Germany. The code files that make up dispersal pull data from a few APIs: Open-Meteo, ThreeJS, SunCalc and Mapbox. I downloaded a SunCalc JavaScript file from GitHub, via an IP address located in »Seattle,« on land that belongs to Duwamish, Suquamish, Stillaguamish, and Muckleshoot People. Threejs.org and mapbox.com both point to Fastly-operated servers in »San Francisco« on Ohlone, Ramaytush and Muwekma land. Open-Meteo’s IP address points to a Datacamp Limited server in »San Jose,« »California« – Tamien, Ohlone, and Muwekma land. To research this, one of the tools I used was nsloopup.io, which itself is hosted on a Cloudflare server also located in »San Francisco,« as is native-land.ca which I used to cross-reference much of this information. And I’ve built the website on my localhost, or the »home« dev server that I operate from my laptop on Wurundjeri Country –- the same local neighborhood I described above in relation to my fieldwork.

All of those locations are in an assemblage that has formed over the development of dispersal. It’s important to note that I haven’t provided an exhaustive or »complete« list of locations. And each of the locations I’ve named aren’t static; depending on our relative locations the routes the data takes to be served to us might change, plus it can be difficult to find the exact locations of remote web servers. So, this is a flawed process – but I still think it’s important to attend to this stuff. Partly as a way of reckoning with the very real country that’s occupied, and the environmental costs of, the so-called »cloud.« With this in mind, how might we approach our use of the Web with more care? How might we remain mindful of what data we upload, and where, and for how long? And by naming and looking at the private owners who control our data, how might that information motivate us to take back some of that control and agency – perhaps taking up processes of »commoning« in the ways we inhabit the Web?

I want to point to some thinkers and artists who’ve guided my thinking on this:

Akademie Schloss Solitude - Dispersal of Data

Screenshot from audio-visual the website composition ”dispersal« by kirby, 2023.

Akademie Schloss Solitude - Dispersal of Data

Screenshot from audio-visual the website composition ”dispersal« by kirby, 2023.

Lucreccia and Suvani: Thanks so much for this elaboration. It really concretizes the space of the internet, and reiterates the point that instead of a »given« that we access, it is bound to concrete sites, material traces and physical labor. In that, the shift to thinking of it as a space of commons really can affect the way one participates in the World Wide Web. There are two instances that this makes me think of – the first is the project Anatomy of an AI, where an anatomical map of human labor, data, and planetary resources is traced out starting from a voice command given to the Amazon Echo.

Do you see your work as trying to make visible the operations of this opaque networked infrastructure, and for people to get closer to an understanding of what it takes to enable connectivity and access?

kirby: I don’t know that my work does that (yet); it’s certainly something that I think about in the ways that I make things, a set of awarenesses that I do my best to carry through my creative and production processes. But I don’t actually see it playing out in my work, at least in the ways that I present things to audiences/interactors. It’s something I’ll continue thinking about, though, and hope to forefront more in the future. Anatomy of an AI is awesome, thanks for the link! As a slight aside, I’ve just started reading Jane Hutton’s book Reciprocal Landscapes in which she traces materials like soil, seeds, plants, and fertilizers from »public landscapes« in New York City back to their sources. I’m so early in my reading of it so I won’t say too much about the book, except that it seems to connect up a number of the ideas we’re talking about here – materials, commoning, etc.

Lucreccia and Suvani: There is also the second instance of the ongoing communication blockades in Gaza by the Israeli state as a war tactic. Drinking water and electricity have been cut off for the Palestinian population in Gaza, phone and internet towers have also been destroyed. Devoid of communication and the internet, the civilians are in a state of blackout. It very clearly points to how the idea of »communication networks« is controlled by the dominant group and becomes a mode of exercising power.

In these deeply unsettling and grave times, your ideas of taking up processes of »commoning« in the ways we inhabit the Web become even more pressing and critical. I have been wondering about the power dynamics, unequal, and controlled access and contradictions that assail communication networks and their use, and also how we, as users and participants of the internet, can demand accountability for this and/or facilitate alternatives that circumvent it. What are your thoughts on this?

kirby: I’m responding to your question a week or so after you wrote it, and people in Gaza are currently experiencing their third communications blackout since the one you were responding to, and the on-ground conditions are getting more and more dire. I don’t feel equipped to speak on this, and I certainly wouldn’t want to use the experience of Palestinians as a way into speculating on ideal internet futures. Instead, I’m thinking about my current sources of information: news updates and on-the-ground coverage from social media (like a lot of people, I’ve been doom-scrolling and continue following incredibly brave journalists on Instagram); likewise on Instagram I’m getting calls-to-action and updates about local (Naarm/Melbourne) protests and solidarity actions; and in private messages I’m debriefing and organizing with friends; and on community radio I continue listening to voices who either aren’t platformed on mainstream media, or if they are it’s short and reductive sound bites.

I feel conflicted about my reliance on social media in what are, as you say, deeply unsettling and grave times. I don’t trust and want to be seeking alternatives to proprietary platforms like Meta that own and control so much data and flow of information. At the same time, such platforms have been vital sources of information and spaces for organizing. Ideally we would be able to continue these forms of listening without wading through shadow bans and dodging/combating Zionist trolls. But as it currently stands, circumventing online power dynamics is currently coming in the form of liking, sharing, and saving things, a hacking of sorts to train the Meta algorithm to update me when trusted sources share news.

I’m sure I’m going to forget some, but for what it’s worth:

kirby is a fledgling. They garden, listen, and learn in Wurundjeri Country. kirby’s ecological listening project Local Time combines field recording and experimental web development to explore more-than-human neighborhood entanglements.

Suvani Suri is an artist/researcher, working with sound, text, intermedia assemblages and actively engaged in thinking through listening. Her practice is informed by the techno-politics of sound, aural/oral histories, and critical imaginations activated by the relational and speculative capacities of voice.

Lucreccia Quintailla is a multidisciplinary artist, DJ, educator, co-director of Liquid Architecture, and a sound system operator. She is interested in sound, collectivity, and collaboration.

  1. Away from keyboard.

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