In an earlier era, travelers of all sorts depended on maps as an essential tool for navigation, from those who trekked The Silk Road in search of trade to those who drove across the country in Jack Kerouac fashion. Although oftentimes rendered in an artistic manner, encoding a painstaking amount of detail, these colorful webs of ocean, land, and ever-shifting territory lines served the utilitarian purpose of aiding travelers to navigate successfully from Point A to B.
In the modern world, there's an app for that. In the age of turn-by-turn directions, many of us don't even know how to properly read a map. Maps have become less about practicality, and more about fulfilling the insatiable human desire to contextualize one's life within the world. This universal curiosity is what makes maps perfect fodder for artists, and since our cell phones now double as compasses, and the most advanced cartographers are Google cars, digitally-generated maps provide excellent material for artistic manipulation.
Here are 10 Google Earth art pieces that may not help you get where you are going (ask Siri for help with that), but will certainly entertain:
Developed by digital creative agency Teehan + Lax, the Google Street View Hyperlapse Tool gives the feeling of being on a road trip with a racecar driver. The browser tool allows you to select your start point and end point, and then creates the high-speed journey at 60 frames per second.
Created by artist Peter Root, this Google Earth digital installation uses images from the software as a backdrop for his multi-colored pseudo-architectural structures. With floating squares and bizarre building structures, the Digital Detritus Dover Project uses Dr. Seuss-style buildings and Piet Mondrian-like shapes all sitting on top of images of our muted home planet. For more on Peter Root's creative process, check out our Tech Q&A with him from last September.
This video, created by Bartholomäus Traubeck, takes you soaring over a glitchy landscape with occasional target-like shapes bombarding the screen. The somewhat anxiety-inducing sounds combined with the muted aesthetics and centrally-located geometric shapes makes you feel like a cyber-fighter pilot cruising over Google Earth's landscape.
In probably the most famous of the Google Earth creations, Clement Valla finds the virtual places where the algorithm creates an inaccuracy or oddity.
This project by photographer Michael Wolf collects odd scenarios incidentally captured in the endless documentation of the world's streets. He has a few sub-collections of this project, including "fuck you," a collection of people flipping of the street car as it captures them in Google Earth's temporary record. This project uses the Google Street View to highlight arguably the most fascinating aspect of these thoroughly-documented streets: the people.
Union Square, San Francisco
Although the utilitarian value of this app is minimal, anyone who grew up watching skateboard videos knows that everything looks cooler from a fish-eye perspective. By using this app, any street corner where you can virtually situate yourself can be distorted stereographically (a technique meant to give a 3D perspective often used in projection).
Times Square, New York City
Leake Street, London, England
Even Google couldn't resist tinkering with their own application. Created as one of Google's infamous April Fool's Day pranks, Quest is an 8-bit version of Google Earth designed for use on Nintendo. This 8-bit version of the intricate world map (although no longer available) featured small Mario-reminiscent characters trekking through uncharted green territory with large monuments rendered in detail.
Screenshot of Washington in Google Earth 8-Bit Map
10 Waterslide Configurations
Taking structures such as basketball courts or swimming pools out of context and collaging them, artist Jenny Odell emphasizes the geometric shapes and patterns that us humans create on the earth. By isolating them from their typical environment and juxtaposing them alongside other similar objects, the viewer focuses on the oddities of the actual shape and design instead of the larger context.
Every Basketball Court in Manhattan
125 Swimming Pools
In this piece, artists Robin Hewlett, and Ben Kinsley integrated street view into fiction. Street With A View had the Google team come to document a fictional story of Sampsonia Way, a story which the town's residents participated in creating. Above is the making of video, shot from the same proverbial aerial view that Google Earth uses. To view the project, visit Google Map and type in "Sampsonia Way + Pittsburg".
Using the phantom-like images Google Street View creates, street artist Paolo Cirio takes these figures out of the digital realm and puts them back into the streets. He extracts these figures, prints them at life-size, and places them using wheat paste back onto the street where the Google car had originally captured them.