Ancient Egyptians believed their souls were judged by a comparison of the weights of their hearts with the weight of a feather. For their project, 10 kg, artists Sebastian Schmieg and Johannes Osterhoff have taken this assessment into the digital realm, questioning the value and presence of a hard drive after it's been taken apart.
To create 10 kg, Schmieg and Osterhoff first singled out the picture above—a pile of destructed hardware—from a collection of photographs from Google’s Data Centers Inside Look. From this image, they were inspired to create a symbolic and literal representation of the idea that without stored data, all that's left is scrap metal.
The two artists acquired the deconstructed hard drives from Google’s Data Center in Saint-Ghislain in Belgium, with the goal to create a new found object, in the same vein as Duchamp's readymades. Schmieg and Osterhoff wanted to explore the idea of big data and its oft-forgotten physical properties, the inevitable e-waste of outdated technologies, and new territories of data, or its absence, as a medium. 10 kg, the final work, premiered at the end of January 2014 at Afterglow, the event collaboration between Art Hack Day, LEAP Berlin, and transmediale.
The documentation of the work shows a brown cardboard box covered white tape, tipped on its side and spilling out broken hard drives parts. The images are credited to internet journalist Ole Reißmann, and legendary net artist, Olia Lialina, who collaborated with Osterhoff on her Digital Folklore Reader and was Schmieg’s New Media professor at Merz Akademie in Stuttgart.
”In their disassembled and dysfunctional state, as an afterglow of the data center factory, [the drives] remain loaded with meaning and provide not only a glimpse behind the shiny interface layer of Google’s applications, but also point to the actual sites of digital life,” Schmieg states in the project description. After the documentation, Osterhoff and Schmieg took the box of broken hard drives and sold them at the Internet Black Market in Berlin for a mere $85, Google's stock price when it went public in 2004.