- Disbursing the Cloud -
Gretta Louw


A computer/smartphone/tablet is one of the most personal items we own and incorporates a great wealth of personal and professional information into one, finite, quickly obsolete, physical object. Decommissioning a laptop or device is an ordeal with which we are all familiar. This time, instead of fiddling around with CDs, DVDs, external harddrives, or other inadequate and fragile hardware solutions to data storage and preservation, I have decided to utilise the greatest capacity of the Internet, as I know it: person to person connection. The internet, you see, is nothing without the people who use it; without the data that they enter and share; the connections they build. So-called 'cloud computing' sells its services as a sort of utopian data heaven - but we know this is not the reality. The 'cloud' is, in fact, not above us, is not abstract, disembodied, or impersonal: it is a vast network of server farms, occupying huge tracts of land, connected by mind-boggling amounts of cable, and maintained by armies of technicians, programmers, administrators, and other workers. And our data is not necessarily safe there. Not from the surveillance state. Not from algorithms trawling for marketable 'big data' (another euphemism). Not from destruction due to hardware or system failure. Not even, necessarily, from individuals or small groups who may seek to access the data illegally.

So, this time, I am reaching out to people rather than hardware or systems. Not because I think this is 'safer' or, clearly, more 'private', but because I recognise that no option for data storage truly is. I will dismantle the contents of my now otherwise unused laptop by dispersing the files one by one via email to friends, contacts, colleagues, and anyone who would like a piece of my digital history. The stockpile of data includes everything from artworks to applications, notes and writing to music recordings and tax invoices, which leaves a great deal of room for emotional, philosophical, socio-political, or nonsensical communication that may arise from the data transfer. I will maintain a spreadsheet detailing which piece of data went to which email address, however I will obviously have no control over how the recipient chooses to share/store/delete/modify whatever I send them. Perhaps they will send it back to me re-mixed? Perhaps I'll lose it forever? Perhaps I will see it on a forum in 5 years time.

Sign up to the mailing list to be informed of progress with the project. Or send an email to thecloud@grettalouw.com to receive a file of my choosing, via email or WeTransfer for large files, in return. If you would like to tell me a few words about yourself (in case we don't know each other personally), I will attempt to choose something specific that I think you might enjoy. Once each file has been sent it will be deleted from the laptop's memory. The project will continue until all data has been deleted, or the laptop gives up the ghost permanently.

You want more? Find out more about my practice on my website, or find me on Instagram.
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