Dark Fiber
2014 – 2019

Marissa Lee Benedict and David Rueter

Single channel video installation
10:00 min looping (variable)

Video excerpt (2018 version, Venice, IT). Full video link available on request.

Installation views from EXPO Chicago (September 2015), Dark Fiber at the Chicago Artists' Coalition (March 2015), and the The Works: Artists In and From Chicago at Contemporary Art Brussels (April 2015).

Companion pdf (Dark Fiber: a companion guide for interpreting internet infrastructures in the digital age, March 2015; essays published or reproduced with permission by Ingrid Burrington for Creative Time Reports, CLUI, Lindsey french, and Cameron Hu).

“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

Viewers entering our video installation, Dark Fiber (2015-19), are greeted with a flowing montage of the artists digging, burying, pulling, and cutting a fiber-optic cable in the shadows of large-scale infrastructure. Locations such as the US/ Mexico border wall, Chicago-area refineries, and an Antwerp shipping canal segue into urban, then interior spaces, gradually reducing in scale and increasing in strangeness until a tiny specialized machine cuts a single strand of fiber. The exhibition site eventually appears on camera, inviting viewers to literally and uncannily connect the filmic industrial worlds with the installation space. The video, which inaugurated Benedict and Rueter’s collaboration in 2014, has traveled to six exhibitions around the world, including the U.S. Pavilion Transit Screening Lounge for the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale and Contemporary Art Brussels in 2015, with the final scenes of the piece re-shot and edited for each installation.

At the time of the work’s conception (2014) a quick Google image search for the phrase “internet infrastructure” revealed little about the sites, materials, and labor of internet infrastructure. Searches instead retrieved a procession of tangled, blue-tinted node-link diagrams. The results for “cloud computing” were (and still are) even more optically jejune; one could reasonably think that the internet is simply carried along by a combination of blue icons, arrows, and boring magic.

In telecommunications industry jargon “dark fiber” is a term for unused, or “unlit” fiber optic cable. As of 2014, adding a few latent strands to a fiber rollout cost little compared to leasing land, negotiating rights-of-way, digging trenches, and sawing through city streets. Telecom companies frequently opted to overbuild capacity in anticipation of future demand. The demand for this capacity became, in many instances, superfluous with technologic leaps that paced increasing amounts of information into light wave frequencies. The latent, now surplus, cable became a real estate opportunity for a growing number of private companies to lease this unused fiber to create their own exclusive networks. “Dark fiber” commonly refers to these privately lit strands, which operate alongside, but in the shadows of, the public internet. Drawing (or tracing) from this context, questions of property, white settlement, fronterism, innovation, and vernacular material technologies of "progress" freight the video installation.

The node-link diagram, a mathematical abstraction that is now shorthand for the complexity of networked society, can obscure more than it reveals. Frame-by-frame, 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 a subjective experience, one afforded by walking a path.

Special thanks to:
Meghan Moe Beitiks, Alex Benedict, Lindsey french, CLUI & Matt Coolidge, Pat Elifritz, Jeremiah Jones, Brian Lee, John & Patricia Lee, Adam Mansour, Juan Luis Olvera, Marc & Anne Rueter, Teresa Silva, Andy Tokarski; Ingrid Burrington & Creative Time Reports; Dieter Roelstraete, Abigail Winograd, and Eleonore de Sadeleer.