Dark Fiber is a video installation by artists Marissa Lee Benedict and David Rueter. The 10-minute video features the artists, drilling, burying, and threading fiber optic cable through various landscapes of the western and midwestern USA, and through industrial, commercial, and home interiors. Through practices real and imagined, Benedict and Rueter labor to fabricate a global high-speed telecommunications network.

Video stills: Cert

Installation shots from Contemporary Art Brussels, April 2015:

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DRAW. In A Thousand Plateaus, to draw is an act of creation. What is drawn (the Body without Organs, the plane of consistency, a line of flight) does not preexist the act of drawing. The French word tracer captures this better: It has all the graphic connotations of “to draw” in English, but can also mean to blaze a trail or open a road. “To trace” {decalquer), on the other hand, is to copy something from a model.

-Brian Massumi, “Notes on the Translation and Acknowledgements,” A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari

“Dark fiber” is telecommunications industry jargon for unused, or “unlit” fiber optic cable. Adding a few latent strands to a fiber rollout costs little compared to leasing land, negotiating rights-of-way, digging trenches, and sawing through city streets, so telecom companies frequently opt to overbuild capacity in anticipation of future demand. A growing number of private companies lease this surplus fiber to create their own exclusive networks; “Dark fiber” also commonly refers to these privately lit strands, which operate alongside, but in the shadows of, the public internet.

The sites, materials, and labor of internet infrastructure are not often illuminated outside of telecom industry circles. A Google image search for the phrase “internet infrastructure” yields no pictures of fiber optic cable, digging, or trenches, but instead a tangled, blue-tinted procession of node-link diagrams. Search results for “cloud computing” are even more optically jejune: one could be forgiven for thinking that the internet is simply carried along by a combination of blue icons, arrows, and boring magic.

The node-link diagram, a mathematical abstraction that is now shorthand for the complexity of networked society, can obscure more than it reveals. Dark Fiber traces a different approach to network representation, suggesting that one might instead draw a single line: one that hops between systems and scales, through vast landscapes, industrial infrastructure, media apparatuses, walls and conduits, lived space, and imagined worlds. The result is not an understanding delivered whole, but an experience afforded by walking a path.

We would like to extend special thanks to:

Meghan Moe Beitiks, Allyson Benedict, Alex Benedict, Harry Benedict, Lindsey French, CLUI & Matt Coolidge, Pat Elifritz, Jeremiah Jones, Brian Lee, John & Patricia Lee, Juan Luis Olvera, Marc & Anne Rueter, Andy Tokarski, Dieter Roelstraeta, Abigail Winograd, and Eleonore Desadeleer.