Photos by Peter Cox and Irene Stracuzzi
Custom Printing 4-metre Inflatable Globe
According to the philosophy of the Alibaba Group, success comes not from putting others at your service but from serving others. This manifests in Alibaba’s approach to data: as a platform serving more than 200 countries and more than half a billion users, and committed to frictionless exchange between every point of its network, it has much more to gain than to lose by making its data accessible and instrumental to the public. In that sense, Alibaba’s performance in reality is inextricable from the image it projects of a seamless global force powered and steered by live, comprehensive data. Of course, given the complexity and diversity of its functions across multiple continents, languages, and infrastructures, this vision of the platform as intelligent, self-optimising dataspace is technically impossible. But it is also debatable whether such transparency is really Alibaba’s goal. The AliResearch Institute, established in 2007, makes this data available only in highly curated reports that support Alibaba’s agenda of e-commerce expansion.
Custom Printing 4-Metre Inflatable Globe reveals how information design is always instrumental to a unique perspective on reality—in this case, how Alibaba sees the world in terms of its production, logistics, sales, and cloud infrastructure—and how that perspective constructs the future, in turn, according to the agency of those who determine, design, and read the data. The cartography of the globe brings together in a single surface the complex and often disconnected layers of Alibaba’s hegemonic expansion: Taobao villages meet new Silk Roads, products are mapped according to popularity, and logistics trade routes form the main connections across international waters. Designed using only the data provided by AliResearch, the globe represents how Alibaba sees itself. The giant inflatable sphere was produced by Singar Inflatables Co., Yantai (China), a vendor found through Alibaba’s e-commerce platform.
Geomatics advisor: Jack van Wijk (TU/e)
Read an interview with Irene Stracuzzi on The Subjective Database of Alibaba Link
As a graphic designer, Irene Stracuzzi (b. 1992, Italy) is fascinated by cartography. Her practice looks at the effect of technical and aesthetic design choices on larger political, environmental, and social phenomena. By confronting both highly technical GIS software and subjective image-making, her work aims at revealing the unacknowledged influence of the designer in the world order, as well as the need for a careful approach to data. She lives and works in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.