The Encyclopedic Palace of the World

The strange resonances of the data centres and Babel-sized libraries explored by RCA curating grad Stella Bottai

Marino Auriti (1891-1980) The Encyclopedic Palace

We are media partners of the Royal College of Art MA cuating graduate exhibiton, No One Lives Here. In this series of blogs, graduates will explain their particular thoughts on the exhibition, which concerns the digital revolution. Take it away, Stella! 

When someone develops a particular interest in a given topic, it seems to appear all around them. Of course, the world is not hip to your new obsession. In reality, what happens is that the mind becomes more receptive to the patterns that interest us and one will begin to perceive correspondences that, to the non-obsessed, might not seem obvious at all. 

On Monday 18th March, the ICA London hosted a presentation by Massimiliano Gioni, artistic director of the 2013 Venice Biennale, in which he illustrated The Encyclopedic Palace, his upcoming exhibition. The process of recognition be happening to me as I see similarities between Gioni’s Encyclopedic Palace and our exhibition No one lives here, currently on show at the Royal College of Art. As I spent the last nine months developing an exhibition that takes the architecture of a subterranean data centre as a metaphor to look at the over saturation and remediation of information and images in contemporary life, I was indeed amazed when Gioni explained that his show derives its title from Maurino Auriti’s Encyclopedic Palace of the World (above), a building designed to hold all the knowledge in the world in the 1950s.

Gioni explained how the original, very ambitious maquette of Auriti’s never-realised architectural endeavour will be included in the exhibition to serve as a metaphor for the constant challenge of ‘reconciling the self with the universe, the subjective with the collective, the specific with the general, as the Venice Biennale press release says. As those who came to see our show will remember, No one lives here is prefaced by a supporting research display offering an overview of Pionen Data Centre – a subterranean 11,950 square feet Cold War era bunker that in 2007 was converted into a structure hosting thousands of terabytes of internet data, including the WikiLeaks servers.

Both ambitious in their structure and in their goal to host worldwide webs of knowledge, the Pionen Data Centre and Auriti’s Encyclopedic Palace of the World do not seem so dissimilar after all. Gioni’s exhibition will feature a vast array of international artists, including young names such as Neïl Beloufa, Ed Atkins, Helen Marten and James Richards, whose practices differently reflect some of the concerns and attitudes of a ‘post-internet’ generation. In this regard it is interesting to read Polly Staple’s interview with Charlotte Higgins recently appeared on The Guardian, in which Staple states that ‘The common factor, perhaps, is that all these young artists grew up with the internet. It's inside them. Because of that, they have a particular attitude to the way images and objects are made, dispersed and distributed’. Guess what Ossian Ward said about our show

Gioni explained how his choice to include artists such as Beloufa and Atkins reflects his interest in contemporary practises that deal with the status and power of images today, as we go through a moment of acute acceleration whereby technological developments have affected our relationship to knowledge. Those who have already visited No one lives here will agree that the inclusion of Neïl Beloufa in both our show and Gioni’s Biennale seems no coincidence at all. 

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