User Generated Server Destruction

Stefan Tiefengraber

Visitors of the website can trigger six hammers and drop them onto a server that is located in the exhibition. This server hosts the website, a single site that shows three buttons to release the hammers and a video stream to follow what’s happening with the piece. The installation ends, once the server is destroyed and thus can not host the website any more.

If connected and looking at a website like this, it seems to appear out of nothing. But there is data – zeros and ones compiling an image, text or a video. It is tempting to think, there is no physical connection to any hardware. The physical, sculptural attendance of the work User Generated Server Destruction typifies the coincidence of the virtual, the intangible world of data and the physical world, where we, the humans, exist. The installation visualizes very directly, that behind the virtuality that we attribute to the data on the internet, there actually is tangible reality and actual physical hardware.

The internet is a continually growing network of servers spread all over the world. On the one hand are the users and on the other hand the suppliers of the network. Usually, it is only possible for computer viruses and very qualified users to attack and destroy highly protected servers that are locked in well secured places.

These places are data centers, where the big ‘Data-Farmers’ are saving all the information we are providing them with. Looking like factories, these centers have big tube systems to cool all the computers. They are strategically built near rivers, guaranteeing enough water for this process. You will always find a power plant close to it, feeding electricity to computers which are not only hungry for data but also for electrical power. Highest standards of security protect the data from loss by any means. The risk of losing the data is not to be taken, no matter how important the data is. One never knows for what or whom it might be useful for some day.

As users we can control our computers and are able to easily destroy hard drives. But the data we feed to clouds and websites is impossible for us to control and erase. Spread over many hard drives and servers across the world, there is no access for us. User Generated Server Destruction represents the counterpart to these conditions. It works in the opposite way and hands power back to the users, who are all of a sudden in a position to decide freely what happens to the data. The project suggests a possibility, to erase one of the servers and thereby shrink the worldwide network for the blink of an eye. Left is a sculpture created by destruction, typifying the physical presence of the internet.

So far, 28 servers in several exhibitions all over the world were destroyed. Although employing similar hardware every time, it took from 2 to 1002 hits for the hammers to finish the destruction. Some servers stopped working after a short period of operating and some worked for several days, although being hit permanently.