I Dream of Canute (& The Sea is Rising) is a digital public artwork in the form of a poem that will slowly destroy itself over the next 100 years. I created the poem as part of Arctica, an interdisciplinary artwork that explores the subject of climate change through the media of poetry, photography, visual art, artist’s books, performance and digital public art. Arctica began as a creative response to an artist’s residency that I undertook in the High Arctic in 2013 as part of The Arctic Circle programme.
The piece itself is a reflection on permanence, time and change that is formally linked to predictions of future global sea level rise. For the purposes of the artwork, I have imagined that sea levels will rise by 1m over the next 100 years. A single line in the poem represents 1cm of sea level rise and each year, for the next 100 years, the last line of the poem will disappear.
Creating a digital artwork that can persist over such a length of time is a challenging task, not least because the public digital medium is such a rapidly evolving space. My intention is that the work will exist beyond my lifespan and inherent in that intention is the fact that I cannot guarantee its continued existence. For these reasons I am issuing a call for an organisational partner who can host the work over the next 100 years.
I chose the platform of the Internet for the poem as I think that it is likely to continue, in one form or another, into the future. However, while I can imagine the internet still being there in 100 years, I am certain that it will a much altered space as its technical structure is constantly changing through the evolution of its underlying software and hardware. This evolution presents a new, unique and complex set of ethical and technical issues about what we should preserve for future generations and how we should go about doing it.
I am aware that it may prove impossible to find a guaranteed home for this work and in a sense this links directly to the subject of climate change that the artwork has been conceived to explore. In order to begin to consider climate change and its effects, we need to think on timescales that stretch beyond our immediate future. The same could be said to be true for the preservation of digital art and perhaps data in any form. As we constantly chase the next technology and the possibilities that it brings us, we are also simultaneously creating a problem around the preservation of the data that these technologies hold.
While creating the digital poem I have tried to give it the highest chance possible of survival by striving for simplicity in its technical implementation and presentation. The work consists of (almost) plain text and its dynamic nature is achieved through a few lines of HTML and PHP code. My hope is that by choosing these basic technologies and stripping the work back to its bare essentials, maintaining it will prove to be a relatively easy task.
If you are interested in helping to find a long-term home for this digital poem, you can contact me via my website or by email at: [email protected]