‘Fields of Athenry’ Matt Parker’s Investigation of How Towns, Tech and Football Collide

Fields of Athenry Matt Parker KitMapper

We interviewed artist Matt Parker and got an inside view on what he felt throughout the duration of his project, ‘Fields of Athenry’. Showing November 3rd-12th at Artists Studio Company Gallery. You won’t want to miss it.

Matt Parker, friend of KitMapper, is a London-based audiovisual composer and sound artist working with and producing archives that amplify hidden connections between every day technology and the environment. Running from November 3rd-12th, ASC Gallery is exhibiting his project Fields of Athenry, a juxtaposition of footage of football fans chanting the popular Irish song “The Fields of Athenry”, with a series of sonic investigations of Apple’s new data centre in Athenry.

Setting the Scene

Fields of Athenry is an audiovisual installation piece exploring how the medium of YouTube is a way of connecting what Athenry is, to what it might become, as the small rural town prepares to allow one of the largest data centre complexes in the world, Apple Inc., to be built nearby.

During the Euro 2012, Ireland lost to Spain 4–0 eliminating them from the tournament. To everyone’s surprise, the Irish united in a song, “The Fields of Athenry”, solely about the struggle of a man to feed his family. Supporters recorded the moment with their smartphones, and uploaded their video to YouTube, of which the data is stored at some huge data centre perhaps located in a small rural town much like Athenry.

We thought his project would be of interest to you, so we took some time to interview him. Matt was quite open to delve into his thought process behind the investigation and the deeper implications intertwining the world of Athenry, Apple Inc. and the Irish national football team in the Euro 2012.

What was the motif behind your work on Fields of Athenry?

I’m still trying to work through the multiple layers of conflict, tension and affect that I feel this scenario evokes.

Overall, my interest in media infrastructure at the moment lies within public/private perception of what such systems offer on a local, national and international scale. Who benefits from such systems and who bares the after effects? What are the after effects? How much of a hold over sovereign nations do multinationals have, and what are the global/regional implications of a small forest being turned into a data factory for the world’s biggest company?

What are the potential issues you find could emerge?

This raises a lot of issues (for me), not just around the nature of multinationals and neo-liberalism but also issues around the ecological (considering such a sites immediate relationship with wider infrastructure, energy, mineralisation, climate change) and psychic (in the micro sense of the human an non-humans living nearby, affected by the building of this massive facility) to the macro (in the sense of this conflict between the pride of ‘Athenry’ as a site of memory, pride, passion, colonial history, unemployment, desperation, opportunity for neoliberal exploitation, disregard, distant, remote, just a name to a story, not a real place).

  1. How long did the project take from conceptualisation to finish?

I have been working on research around the noise of data centres and media infrastructures in general since 2013. I first found out about Apple’s proposal to build a data centre near Athenry in January 2016 and first visited Athenry in May 2016. Fields of Athenry is an ongoing project but this particular piece of work was initially commissioned for exhibition by the Brighton Digital Festival in August 2016.

2. This is a situation many cities around the world will continue to face in terms of exploitation. Will this be a continued theme of investigation for your future projects as well?

I read just this morning that Microsoft are building a significant sized data centre complex in the Netherlands that has been controversial with nearby residents and workers who are being placated by the promise of local jobs. At the end of last year, a local collective called Urbaxion ’93 in the Paris suburb of La Courneuve successfully had a data centre shut down because of its impact on the residential community, citing specifically the noise at night. I went to visit the site in April this year and discovered not only had it been reopened following legal proceedings but it was expanded to more than double in capacity. This is the result of what the industry calls ‘edge’ computing. We want quick responsive access to data streams and we want it in built up areas. The rural sites of data storage will continue to be the backbone, and increasingly these ‘edge’ servers will need to operate closer to population density areas. The basic argument given by data centre companies goes along the lines of this: either we want to stream seamless 4K video playback on Netflix or we don’t.

3. When you look back on your time spent immersed in creating ‘Field of Athenry’, what part will you remember as the most exhilarating artistically?

The most exhilarating thing for me is being at site that I am interested in and spending time there. The tools I use, camera, microphone, they are all just props for me to use so I can begin a process of thought; work through my personal relationship with that space and then try to remove myself from it and to think about the others affected by such a site. I get my kicks out of field work.

Do attend Matt Parker’s exhibition at Artists Studio Company Gallery. We know he’d be thrilled to have you. If you want to keep up-to-date on Matt’s latest projects and exhibitions, check out his website or follow him on social media.

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