In their new work entitled Cargo of Clouds Anne La Berge and Isabelle Vigier observe the impact of human designs on the landscape in our contemporary culture of using data on a grand scale. Data seems invisible and lacking physicality. Data is perceived as free flowing and innocuous. But how does this fluidity actually take shape in the physical world?
The artists base their investigation in the commercial port of Venlo in the Netherlands, where large amounts of goods are tranported daily in connection with a word-wide network of commerce and industry. Around the city of Venlo, like in many urban centers around the world, the historically agricultural landscape has been reclaimed to make way for industrial zones based on networks inherently linked to underlying social and economical enterprises that prioritize a constant flow of goods, and more recently, data.
In the installation Cargo of Clouds the artists’ ambition to shed a light on the blind spot in our contemporary consciousness where data and the physical world co-exist. The video images made on location in Venlo are combined with a spacial soundscape to make an installation that shows links between the abstract and the physical. A live performer will come and go as an intervention that brings real-time human presence into the installation.
Our key subjects are Landscape and Data, a first task in decoding our landscape/data framework has been to pin down a clear and simple definition for ‘data’ and ‘landscape’.
‘Landscape’can be defined as a natural site that has been transformed over time by human actions and planning. Therefore can we read the landscape as a mirror of our society. No place on earth has been left untouched; even in the depth of the oceans there are signs of human society. In Cargo of Clouds we look at what the landscape tells us about our contemporary society, where new models emerge and transform nature. Consequently, our individual and societal relationships to nature are also transformed.
We define‘Data’as: information in digital form that can be transmitted or processed. Regardless of meaning and content, any information can be translated as data. It is invisible to us and, most of the time, we are not even conscious of our interactions with it and our dependency on it as it travels the global digital network at an incomprehensible speed. Despite its invisible quality, data exists in the world physically and has a profound impact on nature, including the quality of the spaces we live in.
In Cargo of Clouds, we express the ways data that surrounds us is embedded in the physical world, and how it affects the natural space and our relationship to nature: Can we be fully human in a world where nature is commodified for the sake of commerce and profit? Do we comprehend the impact of our behaviour online on nature? And how can we, as artists, compare and link some of these general issues of nature’s demise with parallel issues involving data?
FILMING LOCATION IS VENLO
Our research to find film locations for Cargo of Clouds began with our search for places where industrial areas were visibly interwoven with nature in addition to locating data centers in the Netherlands. We discovered that this country has one of the highest number of data centers per capita in the world. It is a remarkably dense network that is interdependent on complex pre-existing transport and energy networks.
The Limburg area
The Limburg area is perfectly positioned to embrace the IT industry considering the strength of its industrial past and its current modernizing efforts. Numerous kinds of data centers have recently emerged in Limburg ranging from Urban Data Centers, Rural Data Centers and since 2018, the very first Provincial Data Center in The Netherlands. Venlo, with its regional and international accessibility via road, water, rail and air connections, has profiled itself as an important actor in upgrading traditional economic sectors.
Industrial areas are grey areas between city centers and agricultural land. After locating and analyzing the industrial areas that housed data centers via Google Maps, we made a field trip in June 2020 to scout out potential film locations north of Maastricht.
Venlo Trade Park
Venlo was a case in point for our project since the Venlo Trade Park is part of a large complex of industry, trade and agro-industrial parks stretching from Venlo to Horst. The park lies on the banks of the Meuse surrounding an artificial peninsula where the river was split to accommodate a port that connects water, rail and road ways. Several logis- tics companies that deal directly with the ins and outs of the port are based there in addition to two data centers that are part of Systemec, a company that owns a large network of data centers in the Netherlands and Germany.
On the eastern side of the artificial peninsula, where the banks of the majestic Meuse offer a large stretch of landscaped nature, there are beautiful views of the city center which is a contrast to the constant car and truck traffic on the Meuse bridge to the north. Barges park at the terminal strategically adjacent to the European Container Terminal to load and unload where there is an ongoing flow of barges and trucks coming in and out of the area carrying containers. The huge crane that lifts and lowers containers moves purposefully in sync with a fully digitalized schedule. This area is unwelcoming to pe- destrians during work hours since it is designed for movement on a monumental scale. There are many surveillance cameras and high fences to control and monitor everything 24/7. On the other hand, the peninsula is also a somewhat off the grid place of leisure where people come to walk and get fresh air. People come regulary on the weekends to skateboard, fish and even just park their cars to watch the river.
Filming on location
We spent 5 days in October 2020 filming for Cargo of Clouds on location. Our base camp was at the CTV office building at the end of the Ankerkade with views on the barge and container terminals. CTV is an international logistics company for multimodal container transport. While filming we had time to observe private and corporate users of the site and to meet some of the people who work there. This was a great time for us to see how the landscape, industry and transport systems function together and to reflect on how the industrial scale of the port juxtaposed with the beautiful landscape on the banks of the Meuse relate to the aspects of nature artificialization and the age of data that we are exploring in this project.
THE ISABELLE VIGIER AND ANNE LA BERGE DUO:
Anne La Berge and Isabelle Vigier’s creative collaborations focus on the exploration of telling stories through innovative forms of audiovisual performances. Their research addresses both the technical tools necessary to use the media they work with and the broader questions about how we respond to phenomena that impact us as personal and social beings.
Vigier and La Berge make audiovisual performances that combine interactive music and visuals where La Berge is the onstage soloist. Their creations use strategies where music and images (video) can be ‘composed’ live by the performer in performance. In order to achieve their artistic visions, they often team-up with developers that help them create custom digital interactive tools. In the past they have fearlessly embarked on creations where the tools by necessity were non-standard and therefore unique such as building an App for iOS. La Berge’s endless enthusiasm and willingness to take on new sophis- ticated skills so she can continue to use the next generation of electro-acoustic audio tools onstage has become one of her international calling cards. For Vigier the challenge is to think in terms of interactivity and to cast her visual language in dialogue with the music where both are woven into a total composition.
Vigier and La Berge’s professional artistic relationship extends back more than a dec- ade. Their first projects involved Vigier’s design and production of LPs and CDs on the Unsounds Label where La Berge has been both composer and performer which includes the entire output of the Dutch ensemble MAZE. Isabelle Vigier has also been the design- er for La Berge’s visual identity including multimedia projects and her website. They have a long-standing dialogue regarding issues of artistic identity including historic and cur- rent gender issues that provide a fruitful base for their collaborations and inspires them to develop deeper artistic goals, learn new skills and to embrace a broader audience.