Think of that feeling of anxiety you get when the signal bar on your phone goes down to just one line, or more catastrophically, displays those cursed two words: ‘No service’. Now imagine that was the reality of your daily life – an existence with Internet connectivity so limited that you had to wait to get your actual house before you could use any of your favourite apps.
Now stop imagining it, because you can experience it for real in a new exhibition opening in Valletta later this month.
The Spaces That Connect Us is a photographic and text-based case study carried out between 2018 and 2019, of life in Pocahontas County, West Virginia – specifically Green Bank and its neighbouring towns.
Green Bank is home to the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope and lies in the heart of America’s National Quiet Zone – a large area of land in which radio transmissions are heavily restricted by law to allow scientific research to be carried out by the radio telescope. In Green Bank, mobile phones, wireless headphones, Bluetooth devices, microwave ovens, remote controls, or anything that uses signals capable of interrupting the work of the telescope is meticulously regulated. Internet connectivity is also limited.
Photographer Joanna Demarco and writer Ann Dingli travelled to the Quiet Zone to explore the diverse polarities between connection and disconnection, observing the lives and experiences of individuals and groups who live in a space without a constant link to the Internet.
Demarco and Dingli hope that the exhibition – which is opening at Valletta Contemporary on the 26th July 2019 – will act as a platform for conversation and reflection on our own ubiquitous use of communication technologies.
“Wi-Fi and internet connection have been on the increase in Green Bank in recent years,” Demarco told Lovin Malta, “but the connection’s strength is still weak in most places and there are often issues with connectivity. So residents of Green Bank and its surroundings live with conditioned Internet usage”.
“By contrast, Malta has one of the highest rates of social media usage in Europe, so we believe the themes we’re exploring – chiefly, how the Internet impacts both individual and community development – will strike a chord with local audiences,” Dingli added.
Earlier this year, thousands of satellites were launched into space as part of plans to create a satellite Internet fleet that could provide connectivity to antenna receivers all over the Earth. Moving in constant motion around the globe, the fleet could conceivably provide global Internet coverage at all times – theoretically offering Wi-Fi to the entirety of the planet.
“Our exhibition begins to question what price we pay for constant connection,” Demarco says, “and what is at stake for communities such as Green Bank when it becomes their reality too”.
The Spaces That Connect Us will be showing at Valletta Contemporary, Valletta between the 26th of July and 14th August 2019. The exhibition is supported by the U.S. Embassy and iLab Photo. The research project was supported by Arts Council Malta – Research Support Grant.