Data and desire. An interview to Dr. Marina Otero Verzier

by Redazione

In june, 2024 we talk about body and pleasure. That is why we also visited the current edition of MAYRIT, this year called Wet Dreams and curated by Dr. Marina Otero Verzier. We met her and talked about Wet Dreams, of course, but also about the function of social design in and for contemporary society, current and future projects.

B: Wet Dreams: what? why? how? 

M: Wet Dreams is both the overall theme of MAYRIT 2024, the Madrid Biennial of Design and Architecture, and the title of its main exhibition, which is on view at CentroCentro. I was approached by MAYRIT’s director, Miguel Leiro, and curatorial director, Joel Blanco, to develop the conceptual framework for this edition and curate this exhibition.

Wet Dreams addresses water beyond its understanding as a resource, exploring its role as a catalyst in eco-social relations. It speaks of waters that heal, of toxic and waste waters, of bodily fluids. It invites rain, rivers, reservoirs, and mud. It conjures up sewers and conduits hidden behind walls, in cellars, and under ceilings. It invokes the world of hoses and pipes, and the orifices that allow the liquids that soak our worlds to enter, as well as the occasional leaks, drips, and overflows of the repressed.

The exhibition mobilizes design and architecture as forces of instigating desire. Here, however, desire is not a yearning for consumerism or unsustainable lifestyles, but a creative, collective energy that makes bodies intertwine and leads the shift towards alternative ways of living

B: Social Design: how can we define it and its function in contemporary society? What is the role of the institutions that do education in this field?

M: Social Design focuses on design practices attuned to contemporary ecological and social challenges—practices that embody genuine care for the world. Social Design exists at the intersection of ethics, politics, and ecology. It emphasizes design’s worldmaking capacity and responsibility in the reorganization of society. It questions how we live and the values that guide our lives. It seeks to counter design’s capitalistic and modernist nature and the resulting modes of living, laboring, producing, and consuming.

To achieve this, we must also question conventional pedagogical spaces, their systems of value creation and exchange, and even ideas about who is able to design. When I headed the Social Design Department at the Design Academy Eindhoven, students came from diverse backgrounds, including cooking, performing, activism, music, political science, anthropology, philosophy, art, architecture. Everyone has the ability to design. We wove these experiences and embodied knowledge into the program. It was an amazing experience, and I continue to collaborate with the designers who graduated from the program. However, I also felt the need to seek other spaces for practice beyond the institution, closer to activism.

B: We have read about your project Future Storage: Architectures to Host the Metaverse. It’s amazing how data and the way it is managed can influence even the most basic needs. Can you tell us about it?

M: Since 2020, within the “Future Storage” research project supported by the Wheelwright Prize from Harvard University, I have conducted fieldwork on digital infrastructures, particularly data centers, around the world. These investigations have provided me with knowledge of the current state of the data storage industry, its future challenges, and advanced strategies. I have just published a book titled En las profundidades de la Nube. Arquitecturas para el almacenamiento y gobernanza de datos en la era de la IA.

My work involves collaborating with communities affected by energy and water shortages from data center activities. One such community is “Resistencia SocioAmbiental – Quilicura” in Santiago, Chile, who live next to the highest national concentration of multinational Big Tech data centers. My contribution involves supporting their efforts to counteract the adverse effects of the data center industry on their wetland ecosystems. We are in dialogue with Chile’s Ministry of Science to shape the first National Data Center Plan toward eco-social models. I also design prototypes for alternative models in data centers, including “Computational Compost,” a 2023 project with Tabakalera and DIPC. It uses supercomputer heat for vermicomposting, creating fertile soil and highlighting the significant impact digital infrastructures have on the environment.

B: Speaking about desires… what’s next for you?

M: I always seek long-term commitments in research projects and collaborations. I will continue supporting communities in their struggles against extractivism induced by digital infrastructure, including lithium mining and data centers, with water at the center of these conflicts. Additionally, I continue exploring alternative models for data centers and new paradigms and aesthetics for data storage, integrating architecture, preservation, and digital culture. I propose the concept of “data mourning” as an act of resistance against the compulsion to accumulate and the loss of sovereignty over our digital memories, now in the hands of corporations.

My “secret” plan is to open, together with my sister Brenda, a space in Galicia, in the north of Spain, where I am originally from. The history of the place is intertwined with regional legends of spirituality and El Camino de Santiago, which has attracted millions of pilgrims for centuries. But it is also a site of important fights against extractivism. I have always wanted to return to my roots and embodied memories, honor those who came before me, and care for the environment we are passing on to future generations. It is only now that I feel I can finally do it. I temporarily call this project and space “Trabajo Peligroso” (Dangerous Work), which is the title of one of my father’s paintings that always intrigued me and he never wanted to fully explain.

B: Grazie, Marina!
M: Thank you!

If there’s one thing we’ve been thinking about since the last edition on convivialism, it’s that everything is better when shared. So we decided to dedicate an editorial space to design and everything we do beyond the boundaries of Design Week, through interviews, insights, tidbits, all about the world of design.

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