Server Farm is a proposal to build a computer out of, and in collaboration with, plants and other critters. All of the component parts of contemporary computation, from information storage, retrieval, and processing, to networking, power supply and management, input/output and display, can be handled by biological systems, in ways which do not cause the ecological damage contemporary computation does — and can actually reverse them.
Imagine a farm. Fields of dense green crops, plots of vegetables, orchards of blossoming trees, and land set aside for hedgerows and wildflowers. Imagine, too, the farm buildings, constructed of local wood and stone, where mushrooms and molds germinate along with workshops and gatherings. Spread across acres of once despoiled and denuded land, this farm is both sustainable and regenerative: producing everything it needs, and more to share and return to the earth. But ultimately, what the farm raises, produces, and distributes is information.
Server Farm is a proposal to build a computer out of and in collaboration with plants and other critters. All of the component parts of contemporary computation, from information storage, retrieval, and processing, to networking, power supply and management, input/output and display, can be handled by biological systems, in ways that do not cause the ecological damage contemporary computation does—and can actually reverse them. We would like to build the perfect environment to bring these diverse actors and agencies together: a working farm.
Emerging from work in biology, agronomy, and artistic practice, Server Farm seeks to establish an actual farm which acquires, stores, processes, displays, and shares data, while at the same time repairing the biosphere and more-than-human relationships. As presently configured, information technology is a huge contributor to CO2 emissions, as well as being complicit in a range of oppressive, extractive, and neocolonial processes that damage the planet, its ecosystems, and human society. Yet technology itself, in the forms of seeing, describing, and acting upon the world it enables, remains an essential part of human thriving, and a necessary tool for addressing and rectifying the damage we have already inflicted. From encoding information in plant DNA to mapping algorithms with slime molds; from mycelial networks to carbon sequestration beneath crop fields; and from heavy metal hyperaccumulators to permaculture processing; the tools and knowledges exist right now to wholly replace toxic technological infrastructures with homegrown, decentralized, rooted, and regenerative alternatives.
Server Farm is a vision for bringing together these diverse realisations, and grounding them in the earth. Moving from discussions and experiments with artists and scientists towards a fully established, working farm, it embodies and enacts the kinds of relationships with one another and the more-than-human world which are of such urgency in the present moment.
James Bridle is a writer and artist working across technologies and disciplines. Their artworks have been commissioned by galleries and institutions and exhibited worldwide and on the internet. Their writing on literature, culture and networks has appeared in magazines and newspapers including Wired, the Atlantic, the New Statesman, the Guardian, and the Observer. New Dark Age, their book about technology, knowledge, and the end of the future, was published by Verso (UK & US) in 2018, and they wrote and presented New Ways of Seeing for BBC Radio 4 in 2019. Their work can be found at http://jamesbridle.com.
(photo: Michael Lundblad)