The Axis of Big Data
Zhou Tao

2022 -2023

The Axis of Big Data explores the surroundings of a big data center in the mountains of Guizhou. Rather than placing the data center itself at the forefront, the film delicately weaves through the mountainous terrain that cradles the facility. It captures the essence of the landscape, showcasing the diverse tapestry of life activities occurring in close proximity and beyond. The subjects of the imagery span the immediate surroundings to the distant horizon, seemingly disparate yet harmoniously united in the cinematic portrayal of this unique environment.

The film unfolds, offering an initial glimpse into the inner sanctum of the data center’s computer room. The camera, seemingly meandering yet purposefully observant, captures machine noise resonating with profound calculations about human life. Continuing its exploration, ambient sounds of nature permeate
the space, guiding viewers into encounters with individuals traversing the mountainous terrain. The tapestry of mountain life gradually unfolds. In response to the undulating contours of the mountains and terraces, the camera employs a scattered panning technique, capturing intertwined and parallel moments in diverse spaces. Throughout this process, the digital camera confronts extreme challenges as it collaborates with the photographer to document its ephemeral daily existence. Mountain dwellers’ activities imprint the passage of time on their bodies amidst clouds and mist, tourists, nightly lights, pheasants, and black goats. The camera eye interconnects all scenes within the mountains, revealing nuances imperceptible to the naked eye. In the film’s culmination, an elderly figure emerges, exuding calm and fortitude, allowing us to grasp the true essence—the soul—of the mountains.

As the camera returns to the data center’s interior after its explorative journey, a subtle realization emerges—a newfound connection between humanity and nature, a baptism. The unfolding narrative around the concealed big data center in the mountains, meticulously captured by the camera, weaves into an expansive tapestry of human life. Resembling a non-traditional Chinese Shanshui painting, it unfurls in multiple dimensions, with its core supplanted by a novel ‘home in memory’ embodied by the data centre. This replacement—where moving images transform into spaces meeting and intersecting—creates an indescribable contemporary allegorical ambiance. The film unfolds as a parallel performance of two ‘lives on the clouds,’ beckoning us to reflect. It presents an enigmatic contemporary life landscape, fostering a profound comprehension of the intricate relationship between Big Data, preserving life’s activities on Earth, and Shanshui (the majestic mountains and rivers).

This film was co-produced by the M Art Foundation and premiered at the Taipei Biennale 2023, Taipei.

Zhou Tao (b. 1976, Changsha, China) studied at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Oil painting in 2001 and a Master of Fine Arts in mixed-media studies in 2006. Zhou Tao finds visual and narrative materials for his arresting film works in the places and communities he encounters, and the narration of the film is often developed from the accumulation of the encountered moments. There is no single entry to the practice of Zhou Tao, through often subtle and humorous interactions with people, things, actions, locations and situations, Zhou’s videos invite us to experience the multiple trajectories of reality—what he once called the “folding scenario” or the “zone with folds.” Although all of his footage captures actual scenes, the poetics of Zhou’s visual narratives dissolve
the division between fact and fiction. For him, the use of moving image is not a deliberate choice of artistic language or medium, instead the operation of the camera is a way of being that blends itself with everyday life. Zhou Tao’s recent solo exhibitions include: Zhou Tao: Winter North Summer South, Times Art Center Berlin, Berlin, 2020; Zhou Tao: The Ridge in a Bronze Mirror, Times Museum, Guangzhou, 2019; Green Sun, an exhibition by Zhou Tao, Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, Bangkok, 2014. He has participated in international exhibitions and biennials, including: Viva Arte Viva, 57th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, 2017; Sharjah Biennial 13, Sharjah, 2017; Tales of Our Time, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2016; APT8, Asia Pacific Triennial
of Contemporary Art, Brisbane, 2015; “Social Factory” – 10th Shanghai Biennale, Shanghai, 2014; The 5th Auckland Triennial: If you were to live here……, Auckland, 2013, etc. Zhou Tao has participated in film festivals, including: 21st Jeonju International Film Festival – Expanded Cinema Section, Jeonju, 2020; 72nd Locarno Film Festival – Moving Ahead Section, Locarno, 2019; 47th International Film Festival Rotterdam – Bright Future Section, Rotterdam, 2018; Moscow International Experimental Film Festival, Moscow, 2018; 15th DocumentaMadrid – FUGAS Feature Film Section, Madrid, 2018; 55th New York Film Festival – Projections Section, New York, 2018. He received awards including “FUGAS Feature Film Section – Jury Award”, DocumentaMadrid in 2018, the 1st Prize of the Jury of the Ministry, 61st Oberhausen International Short Film Festival in 2015 and the 1st Han Nefkens Foundation BACC Award for Contemporary Art in Asia in 2013.