On a small clearing in the woods, on the grounds of the Springhornhof, a museum of site-specific outdoor sculpture, in Neuenkirchen, Germany, lies an inconspicuous-looking boulder. There are no signs on the stone or plaques nearby to draw your attention, but you may notice that one end of the rock is covered in black soot. Someone has been trying to light it on fire. But why?
The 1.5-ton boulder is actually a work of art called “Keepalive” by Aram Bartholl. It’s a real boulder, alright, but modified to hide a Wi-Fi router inside that is powered by a thermoelectric generator which converts heat directly into electricity. Visitors are invited to make a fire next to the boulder to power up the router in the stone. Once the router is up and transmitting, visitors can connect to it with their smartphone and browse or download a collection of PDF survival guides ranging from the useless to the bizarre.
Among the files offered for download include titles such as “A to Z Dating Guide”, “Boy Basics 101: A Survival Guide for Parenting Male Tweens”, “Do it yourself Divorce Guide”, “Drone Survival Guide” and “A steampunk guide to sex” — the kind you normally find in any illegally amassed ebook collection that’s available on file sharing sites on the internet. In defense of the artist, it’s possible many of these have been uploaded by the visitors rather than by the artist himself, since it’s possible to do that.
Aram Bartholl, a Berlin-based media artist, had created a similar public data-sharing access points called “dead drops” in 2010, consisting of USB drives embedded in public wall that invited people to upload and download files of their choosing. Those drives are still lodged in the sides of buildings in New York City.
“Keepalive”, on the other hand, sits in a remote area that requires visitors to make appointments with the landowner in order to visit, a necessity to prevent random people from starting fire on the ground. The title, “Keepalive,” comes from the technical term for a message that’s sent between devices on the internet to check connectivity between them.
“It’s not about easy access,” Bartholl told Hyperallergic. “It has a whole dystopian idea to it, like, will we need something like this in the future? Or somebody finding this in a hundred years — is it still working and they figure something out and they make a fire, or is there going to be a moment where we’re going to need to make fire again to get access to the data?”
All images courtesy of Aram Bartholl
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