The Circuit Breaker is a networked sonic art installation that critiques the culture of constant connectivity.
The installation takes the form of a hybrid electrical-digital infrastructure linked to a distributed network of online participants. Network connectivity is dependent on an array of electrical circuit breakers, browsing analytics, personal energy data and a pre-determined set of algorithmic variables. Participants will have to balance ‘Load Factor’, a concept of diversity of use and geography borrowed from electrical power systems to maintain constant connectivity. The network load if not balanced will be at the risk of disruption marked by the dissonant sonic event of the tripping circuit breakers.
Since the late 19th century,’Load Factor’ has been the primary method used by power companies to distribute electric power and maintain system integrity. Load Factor depends on a harmonious diversity of electrical consumption, consumers and natural geography. By this method, larger geographical areas with a wide range of energy consuming activities allow power systems to balance generation with supply. When the load becomes imbalanced, demand exceeds supply, circuit breakers (CB) are used to disconnect the flow of current that result in rolling blackouts or load shedding. These can only be then manually reset by human intervention.
In the case of the installation, connectivity would be dependent on a set of computable variables such as bandwidth, power usage, analytics, location and terrain. If ideal harmony in diversity or energy use is not maintained by the networked community, as determined by a set of algorithms, it would result in circuit disruption and participants will be blocked out of the network, i.e. the circuit breaker will trip. It will be left to the operator of the circuit breaker, the artist himself, at whose mercy and judgement connectivity will be restored.
ARTISTIC AIMS AND RELEVANCE
The overarching aim of the art installation is to provoke critique and reflection about the energetic impact of our constantly connected digital lives. While harmony between man and machine, high voltages and micro-voltages, body and the network are seen as the primary aspirations of our post- industrial smartphone society, it has led to long-term discord to both humanity and the planet. The constant connectivity of ‘man-machine’ and surveillance culture is not only energy-intensive, but also has resulted in growing dissonance in society at multiple scales, from the social to the political, from resource depletion to climate change. The reality is that infrastructures that support connectivity still remain perceived generally as intangible and ethereal just like the ‘Cloud’.
By placing the circuit of constant connectivity through a criteria of energetic diversity, as well as an environmental agenda, the artist wishes to present dis-connectivity as a tangible sonic event (the sound of the tripping circuit breaker) and also remind us that every ‘click’ has a footprint and every break in the circuit saves a piece of the earth.
The art installation will become the latest in the series of participatory energy and environmental projects developed by the artist since 2012. Combining artistic methods and media archaeology, the artist has inquired into the materialities of contemporary media technologies such as the energy lives of ordinary citizens and institutions, digital memory, e-waste and black-boxed hardware. By a practice-based approach, the artist hopes to explore and quantify the impact of expanding media infrastructure on the environment. The proposed installation will allow the artist to continue on his path of exploration and experimentation into the materialities of media infrastructure that will surely benefit art and provoke public discourse on the culture of constant connectivity.