Studio: Submarine Cable Map / by Anna Madeleine

In March I exhibited the Submarine Cable Map for SafARI 2016.  The work is  a physical map of the under-sea cables that carry the transmission signals of Internet around the world. 

TeleGeography's interactive version of the submarine cable map documents the name, length, landing stations and lots of other useful info for every cable. I spent far too much time on this site selecting the cables that were interesting in terms of the landing stations they connected and the shape of their pathway. After stage one I had 300 cables I wanted to include in my work... this slowly got cut down bit by bit with the final installation representing about 60 cables.

 

One of the ideas behind this work is that while the Internet is perceived as being a wireless technology, it is actually made up of millions of physical fibres and cables (check it out in Slate's Seven Wonders of the Modern World). Considering this tactility, I based the interactive component of the work on the idea of a physical and manually activated switchboard. I set out to build a switchboard where each socket represented a landing station, and that viewers could plug different landing stations together to light up the pathway of undersea cables that connect those two points, on a physical world map.

One of the most frustrating things about this project was the amount of time I spent working out the combinatory system for each cable - what plugged in to what, and what the result would be. These are just a few of the diagrams I drew up while figuring this out (not pictured: about 8 excel sheets made during this process).

I also printed out cards for each cable so I could lay them all out and play with them as hardcopies.

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Fairly early on in the piece I made up a few mock ups of what the final work might look like. 

Mock up 1: Print on plywood, cables drawn out with string and nails

Mock up 2: print on foam core, oceans cut out and cables drawn out with electrical cable

Eventually, these made me realise that I didn't want the work to include an actual world map, as it was too much of a symbol. So I decided to allow the cables to create the map simply by filling the space of the oceans, allowing the blank space to vaguely draw out the space of the continents. 

The cables are made of EL Wire - eectroluminescent wire that glows when an AC current is applied to it (in complete darkness the map turns into a disco map)

With the help of an electrical engineering friend we made up 20 boards that controlled which EL wires were on and/or off depending on which cables were plugged in to the switchboard. The boards used a logic board which could control four combinations of cables via four micro chips. When two landing stations were connected, it would close a circuit of AV current, activating a particular set of wires to light up.

The switchboard was made with alupanel and audio cables, plugs and sockets.. and my new favourite thing - the dymo embosser label maker!

The - now funny, at the time ridiculous - thing about this project was the amount of cables I had to work with.. at least 200 metres not including the coloured electrical wires on the back of the switchboard.

Packing master at work..

Install at Kudos Gallery, Sydney

Lit up and working!