In an increasingly digital world where it seems like you can connect to the Internet almost everywhere, the only place where you can get a digital detox is in nature. Or is it? Not if Berlin-based media artist Aram Bartholl has his way. Best known for works like "Dead Drops", which involves a public file-sharing network of USB flash drives embedded in innocuous crannies all over the world, Bartholl recently debuted a rather curious work: a 1.5-ton rock that doubles as a WiFi router and is powered by fire.
Located in a forested spot by a river at the Springhornhof outdoor museum, the "Keepalive" rock requires that visitors brush up on their survival skills to build a fire in order to activate its thermoelectric generator, which powers the router. As long as the fire is hot enough, the router will keep running. Says Bartholl on Hyperallergic:
It’s not about easy access. 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?
The rock router is built on the Piratebox platform, which allows people to create DIY offline wireless networks. Though the Keepalive rock doesn't connect to the wider Internet per se, when it is on it does permit users to upload and download files via their smartphones into this stone database. What's even more quirky is the fact that the rock stores a library of survival guides, in PDF format -- some of them relevant to wilderness survival and some not. It's perhaps a darkly ironic nudge at the current state of humanity's evolution; eons of hard-learned human survival skills have come to this strange intersection of technology and nature. In a way, the stone is also a kind of survival grail, a destination in of itself:
In 'Keepalive' the stone itself becomes the data medium. In a very archaic, but at the same time clandestine manner, information can be exchanged only locally - in contrast to networked servers, services and clouds worldwide, this rock is not connected to the internet. You have to get close to nature in the countryside, find the stone and make a fire to activate the data source.
According to Bartholl, the idea for Keepalive came from images he saw of people firing up BioLite stoves to charge their phones during the 2012 Hurricane Sandy disaster. “It was funny — the power goes out, and people would buy these little stoves and make a fire to charge their phone,” he says.
For now, the rock remains in place, waiting for intrepid data explorers to discover it, and perhaps contribute to its hidden library about the future survival of our species. More over at Hyperallergic and Aram Bartholl.