I visited Soft Turns in their studio in May. The studio was on the ground floor, a large, white-walled, open-concept space with a hard grey concrete slab floor. In the middle of the room was a model data centre they had built as a set for a new video they were in the process of shooting. The model was collapsible into modular units and reassembled on site; I had seen it earlier in the year as a pile of wood standing in the corner of their home. From the outside, it resembled a raised garden bed, with plywood planks stacked low to the ground; the inside consisted of long, narrow corridors flanked by dark-coloured computer blocks, dimly illuminated by unblinking strings of cold blue and white lights.
The artists draped a transparent plastic tarp over the model, transforming it into a greenhouse, albeit one that nurtured the growth and reproduction of data rather than vegetation. Blending the earthly, self-organizing logic of plants with the technological, algorithmic logic of computation, the gesture highlighted the similarities between the two spaces: both data centres and greenhouses are subject to precise and continuous climate control, both tend to be located outside of dense urban areas and both consume vast amounts of energy. Beyond their geographical and physical kinships, their similarities have also entered the cultural imaginary by way of metaphor. Consider the server farm, a predecessor to today’s massive globalized data centres, or the concept of data harvesting, which refers to automated processes that collect and synthesize data from various online sources and then use that data to advertise to you (among other, more nefarious activities1).