Thursday, April 03, 2008

Where On Earth Is Waldo?

As I describe in my profile, as a "Came of Age Before Computers" artist I rather reluctantly switched into media arts when I became convinced that the innovative art for the foreseeable future was going to involve digital material and be accessible through the Internet. On of my friends during this, my final year as a student of Media Arts, is Melanie Coles. We have been helping each other out with our grad projects, and so I've had the delightful experience of working with her on hers. Her work is a good example of interesting art which uses the internet as the medium, just as other people use paint. Though she uses paint too....

I was one of many volunteers who helped her to paint a huge "Waldo" and hide it on an undisclosed rooftop in Vancouver. It is now there, cheerfully looking heavenwards, waiting for the next Google Earth "fly-by" when a satellite photo will be taken.

Last night we sat side by side in a computer lab at school as she was looking for the first time at aerial shots taken from a helicopter. To see the shots from the helicopter, follow the attached link to Where On Earth Is Waldo her blog about the project. We have already found the rooftop on Google Earth, and have found that the level of detail of the zoom showed a barbeque right next to where her Waldo Painting is now located. When will the photo of Waldo show up on Google Earth? Nobody knows. They schedule regular updates of their photos, especially in urban areas like Vancouver, but have a policy of not disclosing when they will be aiming their camera at a particular area. Possibly because there is an increasing interest in projects like Melanie's where objects are being created to be seen from a Google-eye view.

As an art student, Melanie has deliberately situated her Waldo within a history of land art that is on a scale and located in a way as to be aimed at the eye of a deity rather than to be seen by those on the ground. The huge images carved into the chalk on hillsides in Britain stretched back to ancient times, long before it was visalized that people could ever fly. In July 2007, as part of the launch of the Simpsons movie, a biodegradable Homer was painted next to a famous chalk fertility symbol called the "Cerne Abbas Giant". Here is a link to the BBC coverage about how local pagans "Wish for Rain to Wash Away Homer"

The huge, donut-waving Homer is part of the growing body of "Google Earth" art work which is intended to be experienced indirectly through the lens of satellite photos. Some real-world artworks, such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa as seen by Google Earth can be found easily by typing the name into the search. The link I gave is to a searching a popular website called "Sightseer on Google Earth" which facilitates looking at monuments from a different point of view. It was only a short step beyond looking at real monuments for artists to start doctoring digital photos to add content. An example is a series by a group of Australian collective of artists and designers called "The Glue Society". The example shown here is a Google-eye view of the parting of the Red Sea. Here is a link to an online article "The Bible according to Google Earth"

Those of us who relate to Google as primarily a work or research tool sometimes do not hear about how deeply it is becoming embedded in our culture, especially for those who grew up with it. There is a growing, highly ironic, theory growing in Vancouver 24-hour internet coffee shops about "Is Google God", since it seems to possess many of the powers that have been ascribed to a deity -- for example "Sees all" and "Knows all". There is a tongue-in-the-cheek website called The Church of Google which offers eight proofs that Google is indeed God. I would be interested if anyone who grew up in the days before Google cares to comment about what role Google has taken in their lives.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this Nancy! This is a really great article!