If it wasn’t for the Internet Archive a good deal of online content from the last few decades would have vanished by now. San Francisco techies working in the mid-1990s had the foresight to preserve this information from a fairly early point in the web’s emergence as technology that was available to everyday people. Their Wayback Machine is a time capsule that never closes, open to everyone for research or a simple nostalgia trip.
The project’s founder, Brewster Kahle, may be contemplating the significance of his life’s work. On a recent trip to China he saw the terracotta warriors, an army of sculptures dedicated to Emperor Qin Shi Huang in about 210 BCE. Kahle decided to build his own army of electronic warriors by hiring Irish sculptor Nuala Creed to sculpt figures of people who have worked on the archive for at least three years. The sculptures, about 100 of them, are installed in the archive’s Great Room in San Francisco.
Creed states of the project:
“I love the poetics of this project. Clay has helped to inform and archive human history for thousands of years. As I archive the Internet Archivists in clay, I am sculpting the workers who endeavor to archive the knowledge of our time for future generations.
“The Ceramic Archivists is a large body of work that has been created on an intimate scale over time. Each piece is unique, and is hand-sculpted using coiling, pinching and slab techniques commonly used in ceramics. To personalize the sculptures I usually have the figures holding an object that reflects their hobbies or interests.
“Ceramic Archivists are seen holding a variety of objects – these include a computer, cell phone, a model airplane, ice skates, a mandolin, and a 3D art book. Figures are seen knitting, sewing, holding cooked foods, coffee cups, paint brushes and palettes, skulls, and more. As I make these portraits, I feel as though I am getting to know the people on an intimate level. They become friends. I spend a few weeks working on each sculpture closely looking at their faces and body gestures.
“Included in this collection are luminaries of the high tech world such as Aaron Swartz, Brewster Kahle and Ted Nelson, among others. Each piece is like a snapshot of the person, and indeed this body of work is like a snapshot of life in San Francisco today.”
San Francisco’s tech workers are notorious for their egos, and a cynical person could roll their eyes at Kahle apparently identifying himself with one of the most storied rulers from China; but Kahle’s work has always been forward-thinking. The Archive is evidence of his perspective: he knew, in a time that the Internet was still young, that such a project would be important for the generations who come after us. The people who helped him deserve to be commemorated in a grand fashion and hopefully their clay figures will live on to do battle in the digital afterlife.
Bill Rodgers is a Contributing Editor at CFile.
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