STARTS Prize ´21 Exhibition

Data Garden

Cyrus Clarke (UK), Monika Seyfried (PL), Jeff Nivala (US)

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Honorary Mention

Grow Your Own Cloud

Data Garden is an organism-based data centre. This functional carbon negative data infrastructure is capable of storing and retrieving data from the DNA of plants. In stark contrast to the carbon emitting data cloud, Data Garden works with data in nature’s way, storing data in plant DNA, within organisms that create their own energy. It uses Nanopore sequencers to retrieve data from the plants’ DNA in almost real-time.

The project offers a vision of a world in which design is a collaboration between species, ecosystems, and technologies. As an interactive piece, developed for SXSW, it brings the public into contact with advanced biotechnology as well as critical issues of ‘Data Warming’ (a term coined by GYOC to describe the link between carbon emissions and data storage), genetic modification, and synthetic biology. These are presented through visualizations and a series of posters that accompany the installation.

Developed by Grow Your Own Cloud and scientist Jeff Nivala, principal researcher at MISL, University of Washington, the installation features tobacco plants and Arabidopsis encoded with curated data related to Data Warming using in vivo DNA data storage techniques. The encoding process involved converting computational data such as JPEGs and MP3s into DNA, using ATCG rather than binary. In order to retrieve the data, samples from the plants are taken to obtain droplets of liquid DNA, which are decoded using a nanopore sequencer. Decoded read-outs are then fed into TouchDesigner via Python, revealing the data stored within the plants.

Working with nature to respond to the threat of Data Warming, Data Garden invites visitors to experience a new materiality around data, and explore a world in which data storage is truly green. This type of organism-based data centre is designed to inspire new models that bring principles of working with nature to data, creating regenerative data ecosystems.

Grow Your Own Cloud: Grow Your Own Cloud (GYOC) explores alternative relationships with nature and technology through collaboration between the arts and science. By storing data in nature’s way, in the DNA of plants, GYOC creates carbon absorbing data storage.

Monika Seyfried (PL) & Cyrus Clarke (UK): Initiated by Monika Seyfried and Cyrus Clarke, the research investigates data, living systems, and planetary issues such as ‘Data Warming.’

Jeff Nivala (US): GYOC works with scientist Jeff Nivala to re-imagine the cloud as a space for symbiosis between humans and other organisms. GYOC has been exhibited at SXSW, Primer NYC, and BIO26. They contributed to the agenda of the UN Climate Summit, COP25, and WEF Davos. In 2020 they were awarded the Ginkgo Creative Residency.


Created by: Cyrus Clarke, Monika Seyfried, and Jeff Nivala
Architects: (ab)Normal
Graphic design: Kuba Bogacki, Krzysztof Seyfried, Olek Znosko
Ethics advisor: Annelie Berner
Fabrication team: Mike Hart, Rachael Starbuck, Ted Carey

With support from: Unlisted Projects (US), The Museum of Human Achievement (US), Statens Kunstfond (DK), Roskilde Festival (DK), Catch (DK), and The Singer Foundation (US).

Special Thanks to Majken Overgaard, Zac Traeger, and Dianne Dain