In 2013, the first art satellite was launched. It would fly over the earth for three months like a high-altitude boombox, playing a selection of music back to earthly CB radio airwaves. Launched by the Mexican Space Collective, the satellite’s name was Ulysses I, and it was created by artist Juan José López Infante Casasús, who would later lead a group of prominent artists at the intersection of contemporary art and new technologies.
Over the last decade, dozens of visual creators have used extra-terrestrial footage to document society or create new work: the prostitutes of the Mishka Henner’s controversial No man's land, the photojournalistic unfortunate events of Michael Wolf, Clement Valla’s surreal, Paolo Cirio’s ghosts. But there is something special about Satellite Collections, the meta-satellite project by American artist Jenny Odell, who takes post-photographic sources to a new level of analysis.
Odell collects, cuts and copy+pastes thousands of inanimate elements from Google Satellite View. All those tiny parking lots, silos, landfills, airplanes and boats, previously lost in random and anonymous maps, are now part of a new composition revealing the human legacy on Earth. Odell’s introductory statement quotes Eugene Cernan, an astronaut on the Apollo 17, on seeing the Earth from space:
“You can see from pole to pole and across oceans and continents and you can watch it turn and there's no strings holding it up, and it's moving in a blackness that is almost beyond conception.”
What Cernan never imagined is that now we can not only see the same inconceivable images, but play with them.
Jenny Odell is a Bay Area native/captive with an MFA in Design from the San Francisco Art Institute and a BA in English Literature from UC Berkeley. Her work has been featured at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Google Headquarters, and Les Rencontres D'Arles in France. It's also turned up in TIME Magazine, the Atlantic, the NPR Picture Show, Pop-up Magazine, Rhizome, Guernica, and ESPN Magazine. Abroad, her work has been featured in Die Zeit, European Photography, NEON Magazine, Le Soir, Elephant Magazine, and most bizarrely, a Belgian TV guide that came in the mail with an assortment of gorilla stickers. As a recipient of the San Francisco Arts Commission individual artist grant, she is working on a new large-scale body of work to be exhibited in February 2014. She is currently a lecturer at Stanford University and lives in San Francisco.