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VanAbbe Museum GEO-DESIGN, SAND, The building block of modernity exhibition

Terabytes per second exposes the materiality of our global-communication, the subsea cable landscape. A critical infrastructure that plays a crucial role in our economic systems and is reliant on the world’s security and social frameworks. Zooming into the physical components which has been constructed with thin optical glass fibers, its landscape-like territoriality becomes inevitable.

With 'The fountain of light pulses' that is part of the installation Terabytes per second, the history of Fiber Optics is shown: It began as a thing of beauty - a play with light. The fountain that is made out of glass shows a mechanism known as the total internal reflection of light, where a laser light travels through a stream of water flow. This discovery was made in 1840, where researchers experimented with using the flow of water to bend light in laboratory demonstrations, making the invisible visible. It was not until decades later it caught attention by the theatre and opera, being able to create special effects, such as luminous fountains and optical devices for “magic”.

What sparked an interest in optical communication, was the exploration of bending light with water to the invention of the laser in 1960. Only 6 years later Charles K. Kao proposed the idea of fiber-optic communications, to guide light by transparent fibers. A glass of such purity made from fused silica sand, that could be made clear enough to transmit light over great distances. The laser provided a bright light to launch into the incredibly tiny core of the fiber, that information traveled along the fiber as pulses of light.

Today the world’s information infrastructure is now predominantly composed of fiber-optic cables. The increased demand for high bandwidth is creating a booming industry for privatisation of national telecommunications, with a race to lay the fastest routes from East to West. Its backbone is an ever expanding intricate network of submarine fiber optic cables stretching all across the globe. This is exhibited in the Submarine Cable Map, showcasing all active international and domestic telecommunication submarine cables that have been announced by March 2020. These cables, only as thick as a garden hose, can carry more than one trillion bits per second, equivalent to 13 million telephone calls, and have reshaped our understanding of distance, trade and proximity irreversibly. 
In the installation; two films are shown, an interview on the logistics of submarine cable and territories and an archive film of the pioneer Charles K. Kao experimenting with the world’s first single-mode optical communication fibre, made of glass. On display, a recovered submarine cable that linked the Scottish Highland Islands along with 24km of optical fibers to observe the complex construction of materials and the thin strands of the very pure glass. 

Submarine cabe map showing the 406 active cables 2020:
Submarine cable landscape, to see details press this ☗

GEO-DESIGN, on The Subsea Space Race for Cable Sovereignty. ☗

Online archives:

GEO—DESIGN: Sand. The Building Block of Modernity ☗

Eflux GEO-DESIGN architecture ☗
Domus - an exhibition about sand, the oil of the digital age ☗

Collaborators and theory input;
Film, Interview; Jonathan Annals, SubCom LLC Telecommunication.
SubCom LLC, for SL17 Single armor cable.
British Telecom, for a piece of recovered subsea cable system.
Nextrom, for documentation and support of glass fibres.
TeleGeography, for submarine cable data.

Research, concept and production:
Anna Diljá Sigurðardóttir

Film, installation documentation by:
Anna Diljá Sigurðardóttir

Photography by:
Anastasija Mass

Special thanks to;
Anastasija Mass
Siavash Maraghechi