Chromobytes \ Thomas Thwaites (2017)

In 100 million years, what will the geology on the site of an abandoned server farm be like? Digital culture is often discussed in immaterial terms, as clouds, airwaves, or wifi, but most of what is digital is actually made from concentrated metals in electronics. Our important digital archives; culture, media, and knowledge, is stored on hard disk drives, solid-state drives, tapes and so on, and will sink back to be impurities in some rock somewhere, given enough time.

In an exploration of the materiality of digital objects, internationally renowned British designer, Thomas Thwaites, and materials consultant Sioban Imms, created a series of sculptures, polluted with the metal ions from discarded hard disc drives that had held terabytes of digitally archived material. Using column chromatography, a technique often used in environmental analysis, the statues were coloured from the metal ions, originating from the metals used in the hard drives.

Much of Thwaites’ work is interested in the transformation of the mundane. Chromobytes, combines material and chemical investigation to show us the substances that go into making our commercially-driven design worlds. Much like digital archives that can be categorised by date, Dewey Decimal or whatever query is set on the database, Thwaites has set out to re-categorise a series of digital hard disk drives according to the materials on which they reside. Chromobytes asks us to think about digital preservation beyond the conservation of the seeming intangibility of software – what we preserve cannot be divorced from what we have already made.

Chromobytes was made in collaboration with Sioban Imms. With special thanks to Dr. Frank Mair and the School of Chemistry at Manchester University for their invaluable knowledge and development of the project.


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