Is there any relationship between cloud computing and the clouds high above our heads? Does the weather affect our mood so much it might even influence how we vote? These are some of the questions posed by the writer and digital artist James Bridle in the third of the Serpentine Gallery’s pioneering digital commissions, which goes on public release tomorrow (29 September).
Cloud Index (2016) marries vast amounts of historic weather data with polling results (including the Brexit referendum and, it is hoped, the next US presidential election) to produce surprising correlations. The work will be presented online, on screens in the gallery and as an e-book that can be downloaded for free.
Ben Vickers, the Serpentine’s curator of digital, says that Bridle was initially interested in exploring many of the myths of the corporate tech world: “One of the strands of his thinking—and in fact of many people in the tech/art/activism space—is that the internet isn’t this ethereal thing.
“It’s not up in the clouds—it has physical infrastructure. It’s datacentres on the side of the M25. It is, among other things, a surveillance network, and it has been built on top of what you could describe as existing colonial roots.”
But this piece takes a more poetic approach. Vickers says: “Bridle started saying, what if we took the cloud for its strangeness? What if you took polling data and meteorological data, and used voting decisions to predict what the weather was like if people voted that way?
”Of course, it doesn’t really correlate, but you could say that about star signs. Human civilisations have been using the sky to work out what was happening on earth long before computers.”
Bridle, who is British but now lives in Athens, has written extensively on art, culture and technology for publications including The Guardian and New Statesman, and is credited with inventing the term “the new aesthetic”. Wired called him one of the most influential people in Europe in 2015.
Bridle says: “For centuries, we’ve looked to the sky to divine the future. Today we look to the cloud. We have built satellites to observe the earth and supercomputers to crunch the data, but the more information we gather, the more complexity and uncertainty we reveal.”
So far, the Serpentine's digital commissioning strategy has proved prescient. Cécile B. Evans’s AGNES was the gallery’s first digital commission, embedded into the Serpentine’s website in 2014. And Ian Cheng’s Bad Corgi—a weird computer game turned “mindfulness app”—went on public release earlier this year. Evans will have her first UK solo show at Tate Liverpool later this month (21 October 2016-19 March 2017) while Cheng’s work will feature in the much anticipated exhibition Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905-2016 (28 October-5 February 2017) at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
• James Bridle will be among the speakers at the Serpentine’s Miracle Marathon weekend (8-9 October) at the Serpentine Sackler Galleries and live online at radio.serpentinegalleries.org