For centuries, humans have searched for meaning in the sky. Dating back to the 3rd millennium BC, astrology seeks to understand human behaviour through the influence of planets and other celestial objects. Now, while “what’s your sign?” is still a common question, people value the insights of the Internet even more than the stars. Drawing on these two concepts, digital artist James Bridle compares cloud computing with our historical dependence on what happens in the sky in his latest project, Cloud Index.
"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, and the more societies fracture into competing fundamentalisms,” says Bridle.
The project, commissioned by the Serpentine Gallery, uses vast amounts of historic weather data from satellites and correlates it with polling data on major political events, including the EU referendum. Cloud Index is essentially a weather prediction model that toys with the idea that we can predict the way the tide will turn in major political events by checking the “clouds”. It also highlights the way we view the cloud or the internet as an ethereal thing rather than a physical infrastructure.
“In a headless age of climate collapse, post-factual discourse, and transnational extremism, how do we understand global events not as a disorder, but as the unconscious outcomes of our entangled political technologies?" adds Bridle.
The work launched at the end of September on the Serpentine Gallery’s online space. It will also be presented on screens in the gallery and as an e-book that can be downloaded for free.
According to the gallery, Bridle’s work explores the many aspects of the term ‘cloud’, from modern computer networks to the English mystical tradition, from the history of weather forecasting to climate change and contemporary conspiracy fears. “For Bridle, the cloud is neither a nebulous obstruction nor a dangerous abstraction, rather it represents the best model we might conceive of a contingent and entangled world.”