garden.local is an art project that combines drawing installations, local wireless networks, and a website based on those same drawings and networks. Audience members may use their own smartphones or those provided by the gallery to enter the software-generated garden. Once inside the garden, audience members are able to experience the transformation of the garden through visual, sound and textual elements, witnessing and cultivating the growing mosses, lichens, and mushrooms within. In this essay, I will prioritize exploring the conceptual inquiries, followed by a footnote for collaborators, technical details and accessibility.
The project asks questions about the relationships between computers, networks, communities and the environment. What if the Internet is like a garden, full of moss, lichens, and mushrooms? What would it be like if humans could visit this lush, natural environment and listen to the tales of the software-plants, and rest against the hardware-earth, and exchange vital forms of care with various data-creatures?
Internet protocols and infrastructure make up the fabric of all online communication. Certain aspects of the Internet we are most familiar with - especially commercial platforms like Facebook and Google - have problematic practices with regard to privacy, security, and data sovereignty. At the same time, we must ask ourselves: is the Internet, in fact, a singular space? What can we do to allow for different approaches and modes of thought to enter it?
Practically speaking, in some urban areas that experience disparities in web access, “Community Technology”1 activists have set up mesh networks to provide widespread alternative access, demonstrating their commitment to decentralizing the Internet and building more equitable conditions for and connections between all people.
Generally, we tend to think of computers and the Internet as separate things, but in fact, the internet is just the largest computer ever built. So if this Internet, then, can be transformed into a garden, computers themselves will become spaces of software-plants, hardware-dirt, and data-creatures.
The lichens and mushrooms that dot these gardens, in particular, have much to teach us about building truly alternative networks. In bearing witness to the symbiotic collaboration that takes place between algae and fungi, we are brought face to face with a way of life that resonates for organic and inorganic beings alike. Endlessly enmeshed with and dependent on one another, these entities are defined by the care they exchange - a clear model of the interdependent, distributed, equitable web of care that garden.local seeks to explore and establish.
garden.local is a part of the Distributed Web of Care series. Since 2018, I have collaborated with fellow artists, engineers, and writers through the Distributed Web of Care.2 Taking the conditions of today’s Internet as their starting point, these works seek to question and imagine beyond the status quo, proposing alternate futures. The series contains a range of works on the topics of racial justice on the decentralized web, ethics of archiving through performance, workshops and residencies. The upcoming project in the series, a P2P Residency will take place online and in person in Berlin in the fall of 2022, organized with the C/O Digital.
garden.local is made in collaboration with a number of engineers, designers, writers and organizers. The first instalment of garden.local, made with engineers Cezar Mocan, Yehwan Song and Jonathan Dehan, was presented at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York in 2019. The first garden.local consists of Raspberry Pi, local wifi networks and a rechargeable battery. The project was exhibited at the Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile, Hong Kong, Art Sonje Center, Seoul, and is a permanent collection of the Seoul Museum of Art, South Korea.
The latest installment of garden.local, made with Cezar Mocan, Sosun Park, Donghoon Yi and Beomjun Kim, with support of Art Council Korea, premiered at Art Center White Block, South Korea in November of 2021. The project consists of Raspberry Pi, local wifi networks, environmental sensors and long-range radio, solar-powered computers, paintings and installations. The image descriptions were written by Chaejung Shin and Maya West and the music was created by Y2K92.
In thinking about the future of the internet, it’s crucial to consider the access and inclusion of disabled people. I am committed to accessibility for all and working to construct a system that is barrier-conscious. New technologies are not always helpful for Disabled people if they focus on the cure instead of control.3 As opposed to designing an ‘all-in-one’ accessible system, it’s more realistic to become conscious of various seams in access and inclusion. The current garden.local is not fully accessible for the blind and low-vision audience.
My collaborators and I are working towards improving the alt-text and image description. We are also working on a more wholesome approach to experiencing artworks, which may include workshops, performances and other multi-sensory experiences. In the Guide to Access and Inclusion,4 I wrote “Accessible design takes into account the various ways humans exist, and helps disabled and non-disabled people alike in entering and participating in spaces.” Making artwork is creating a space and inviting people into it.
The next phase of garden.local will be an immersive experience to connect natural elements, such as plants and fungi with the digital, virtual environment. Making digital environments accessible can be one of the creative tactics to change technologies towards more sustainability. For example, making websites accessible for screen reader users can lead to designing websites that consume less energy. Access doesn’t need to be a matter of compromising design. Access could be an inherent element of artistic creativity.
Through this work, I hope to connect aesthetic, ethical, technical and environmental practices towards a habitat of care and accountability.
About the Author
Taeyoon Choi explores the poetics of science, technology and human relations. He works with computer programming, drawing, and writing, oftentimes in collaboration with fellow artists, experts and community members. He cofounded the School for Poetic Computation in New York City. Currently, he’s based in Seoul, South Korea and teaches at Yonsei University.
- This term is inspired by Detroit Community Technology Project, who work towards “to use and create technology rooted in community needs that strengthens neighbors’ connection to each other, and to the planet. “
- Distributed Web of Care was founded in 2018 during my fellowship at the Data and Society Research Institute in New York City. The website is an archive of various projects and initiatives around the topic.
- In Artificial Advancement published by the New Inquiry in 2018, I argue “Given the power of technological narratives to influence our ideas of future societies, changing these narratives should lead to renewed social appreciation for disabled people.”
- In A Guide for Co-Creating Access & Inclusion published by The Creative Independent in 2021, I ask “remember that disabled people are all around us—they are our friends, our classmates, our neighbors, and our family.”