Acid Clouds is a research project initiated by graphic designer Niels Schrader and photographer Roel Backaert. It includes among others a series of photographs that maps the material traces of virtual data in the Netherlands. The project investigates the massively resource-intensive and earthbound properties of digital storage, and questions the image of “the cloud” as clean, sterile and environmentally-friendly domain.
Since 2018, Schrader and Backaert are systematically documenting Dutch data centres. Their night-time photographs are all taken from similar points of view in order to methodically capture the spatial presence of server farms and enable visual comparisons across different topologies. Discovering unique traits of the buildings helps to identify motives and effects hidden in today’s global cloud infrastructure.
To grasp the complexity of the impact of data centres on the immediate environment, Schrader and Backaert have conducted comprehensive interviews with leaders from the Dutch internet industry. Fragments of the interviews are available below:
Critical Atlas of Dutch Data Centres
Niels Schrader and Roel Backaert are currently working together with editor and publicist Jorinde Seijdel on a publication featuring photos and essays on pressing issues related to the topic of data centres. It will raise urgent ethical and political issues and questions in the field of digital rights, the ownership and administration of big data, the power of large tech companies, public access to information, privacy issues and the vulnerability of data versus their indelibility.
In the book, guest writers will examine the data ethics of the data centres and their administrators / owners, as well as the architecture and structure of the data centres as physical facilities for intangible content: What form do they take, what space do they consume, how do they relate to their natural and built environments, how do they protect their content and how transparent are they in their functioning?
Acid Clouds will include texts by Ramon Amaro, Hanno Bakkeren, Mél Hogan, Michiel van Iersel & Mark Minkjan, Geert Lovink & Ned Rossiter, Niels Schrader, Jorinde Seijdel, Marina Otero Verzier, Marleen Stikker and Alice Twemlow.
With extensive diagrams, maps, a glossary and a photo series of data centres in the Netherlands woven throughout the book, the publication is also a visual atlas that maps the material traces of virtual data in the Dutch landscape.
The book will be available in 2022 through nai010 publishers. It can be pre-ordered here.
Niels Schrader (VE / DE) is a concept-driven information designer with a fascination for numbers and data. He is founder of the Amsterdam-based design studio Mind Design, member of the AGI – Alliance Graphique Internationale and together with Ramon Amaro and Sheena Calvert co-founder of the Queer Computing Consortium (QCC). In addition, he is Head of Programme of the master Non Linear Narrative at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague. Next to his design practice Schrader writes regularly for Grafikmagazin and Open! Platform for Art, Culture & the Public Domain. In his role as an educator Schrader focuses on social, political and environmental processes driven and influenced by digital technologies.
Roel Backaert (BE) is an architectural photographer and nighthawk from Belgium who works in commission and on autonomous projects. His work was published in international magazines such as A10, Bright, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Dezeen. Since 2004 he has been travelling the world as an architectural photographer and pursued his career as an autonomous artist. The main focus in his work is the urban landscape from which he often plucks a peculiar object, building or cityscape out of its context to present it in compelling centralised composition. Backaert works mostly at night with an analogue camera of 4×5 inches using very long shutter-speeds that pull the subjects out of the darkness of the night into an exceptionally colourful twilight.
Jorinde Seijdel (NL) is an independent writer, editor and lecturer on subjects concerning art and media in our changing society and the public sphere. She is editor-in-chief of Open! Platform for Art, Culture & the Public Domain. Her articles have appeared in various magazines and publications, including Spaces for Criticism. Shifts in Contemporary Art Discourses (ed. Thijs Lijster, Suzana Milevska, Pascal Gielen, Ruth Sonderegger, Valiz, 2015). She was co-editor of the publication What’s the Use? Constellations of Art, History and Knowledge (Valiz, 2016) and is theory mentor at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam and Head of Programme of Studium Generale Rietveld Academie.
Art Direction: Niels Schrader
Director of Photography: Roel Backaert
Camera: Daan van Asselt and Yannick van de Graaf
Video editing: Yannick van de Graaf
Assistance: Martijn de Heer
Special thanks to: Evelyn Austin, Ramon Amaro, Edgar van Essen, Stijn Grove, Walter Hoogland, Martin Lloyd, Marleen Stikker, Alice Twemlow and Huis de Pinto
Partners: Waag, Amsterdam and nai010 publishers, Rotterdam
Website: Mind Design, Amsterdam
December 2021: ‘Acid Clouds’, Grafikmagazin, no. 6
From 23 to 28 September 2021 Acid Clouds was part of Expedition: Future by Waag, Amsterdam. Waag is a Future Lab for technology and society and explores possible and desirable futures through expeditions to planet B.