Art to inspire collective action on sustainable digital research infrastructure

From supercomputers to staff laptops, we are working towards making all the digital tools and practices used for UK research carbon neutral. Our roadmap towards carbon neutral digital research infrastructure will involve UK researchers from across disciplines and take an integrated and coordinated approach.

To meet the ambitious sustainability target - of reaching net zero digital research infrastructure by 2040 - a broad transformation will be required. The arts have a role in this transformation as a medium through which people can consider their values, shift attitudes, reflect on issues, and find connection.

Artist Paul Millhouse-Smith has been commissioned to inspire collective action on sustainable digital research infrastructure.

Paul Millhouse-Smith, a multi-disciplinary artist and technologist who explores our relationship with the past and new technologies, has envisaged a physical and virtual artwork that will stimulate engaging conversations across the research community.

Paul’s work, and the workshops and processes by which it is created, will encourage people to look at the challenge of net zero for digital research infrastructure from a fresh perspective and inspire meaningful change.

Through a series of creative workshops with people from across the UK digital research infrastructure community, Paul will facilitate making sessions and capture conversations related to the critical decisions around the work we do. Registration is now open for the workshops, being held in January/February 2023.

People will have the opportunity to explore with Paul what they hold important about research, digital infrastructure, and the world we live in - in the context of our rapidly changing climate and what we are set to lose.

Drawings, images, and texts from these forums will be transformed into narrative reliefs - a striking and representative scene that will inform Paul’s physical and virtual artworks.

Inspired by some of the world’s earliest examples of narrative art and information sharing via pottery, Paul will create six one-metre-high vases using cutting-edge 3D ceramic printing technology.

These ceramic cylinders - and vessels of ‘data’ - will conjure up a sense of monolithic forms. They will be decorated in a way that reflects the digital research infrastructure transformation and the perspectives of the workshop participants.

As one of the oldest human inventions, the practice of pottery has developed alongside civilization. Ceramics is an ancient and enduring art-form, which is now being revolutionised by the latest printing technologies and digital design practices.

Clay, as a sustainable material, has the ability to change and take on different forms, to last, or to be broken down and re-made. Using clay for this commission is a metaphor for lasting change - and the change that is required for reaching net zero digital research infrastructure.

A 3D playable virtual environment will also be designed by Paul, to be experienced through a web browser, virtual reality headset, or film projections. Hologram-like versions of the vases will be displayed inside a re-imagined digital infrastructure environment, for virtual visitors to explore and interact with. A way for people to experience the artwork in their own time and place.

The physical vases and virtual reality space will then be combined, to form an immersive installation and visitor experience in summer 2023 at The Reel Store - the UK’s first permanent digital art gallery, in Coventry.

The in-person and online installations will stimulate further thinking and conversations on climate change, digital infrastructure, and the future of UK research.

For the workshop participants, and for members of the UK digital research infrastructure community more broadly, the installations will offer the opportunity to observe what can be created by bringing different disciplines together for collective action.

Further information

Commission timeline: November 2022 - June 2023

Register your interest in the participatory workshops.

Contact the artist: Paul Millhouse-Smith

For media enquiries or questions about the Net Zero Digital Research Infrastructure project contact Poppy Townsend