Internet Giants: Masters of the Universe is a provocative new exhibition by British art duo Ben Langlands and Nikki Bell, marking their 40th anniversary together. In it you will find a series of relief sculptures that reproduce the headquarters of the most important tech companies in the world, like Apple, Facebook, Alibaba, and Google.
In the artists’ hands, the headquarters are flat, rendered in white, and set against saturated background colors. They could be archeological artifacts, except that everything is too neat, too perfect, giving the pieces an ominous quality that hints at the project’s larger themes. “[As] these internet giants continue to grow exponentially, becoming ever more powerful by the day, and exercising an increasingly profound influence over our lives, they are reshaping the cultures, politics, and economies of societies all over the world comprehensively,” Langlands and Bell say. They believe that their architecture is the most tangible and enduring record of their power.
To create the sculptures, Langlands and Bell researched plans and architectural drawings online. (In some cases, like Google’s new massive campus in Mountain View, California, the buildings have not been finished yet.) Then they re-created the structures using medium-density fiber board, acrylic, cardboard, wood, paint, and lacquer.
These portrayals of corporate temples are complemented by portraits of the overlords that founded the companies. Gates, Zuckerberg, Bezos, Brin, and even Steve Jobs are featured pixelated–“religious icons for the digital age,” in the words of the artists. The portraits are accompanied by quotes from the founders and CEOs that make them sound like cult leaders. Case in point:
What to make of these works? Reduced to basic shapes and floor plans, the buildings stop looking like the futuristic playgrounds that their founders and CEOs intend them to be and start looking like ancient typologies. Take Apple’s new headquarters designed by Norman Foster in Cupertino. Stripped down to its essence, the ring shape could pass for a colosseum. The pixelated portraits and aggressively banal quotes reinforce the idea that the rise of technology–and the distribution of power to a select few–is an old story. And we all know what happens when power is left unchecked.
The exhibition is on view at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, U.K., until June 10.