Mapping Darfur

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Since Sudanese government soldiers and their proxy militia, the Janjaweed, commenced assaults on rebel forces and civilians of similar ethnic descent, in 2003, the crisis in Darfur has been at the forefront of international discussion and the subject of extensive political, humanitarian, and journalistic work. "Museum Mapping Initiative," a unique collaboration between Google and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, makes the history and details of the crisis available to a virtual community, allowing Google Earth users to navigate a map of the region amended with data provided by the U.S. State department, including locations of damaged and destroyed villages, internally displaced person (IDP) and refugee camps in Darfur and Chad, respectively, and zones accessible and inaccessible to humanitarian relief workers. Users navigating the terrain can read testimonies of civilians affected by the conflict, recorded by Amnesty researchers, and view photographs depicting aspects of regional life. Taking advantage of Google Earth's architecture, "Museum Mapping Initiative" also allows users to insert their own placemarks on locations in Darfur and Chad towards constructing specific tours, presentations and readings of the crisis. Through this intersection of interactive technology and progressive historiography, the events and stories surrounding this modern-day atrocity can finally be brought to greater light. - Tyler Coburn

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Flat Earth (2007) by Thomson & Craighead

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Image: Earth from Space, Apollo 17, 1972


After hearing rumors concerning the existence of secret NASA photographs of the Earth as seen from outer space, the writer and future digital-utopianist Stewart Brand fought to have these images released to the public. The hope behind Brand's 1966 campaign was that these "blue marble" photographs of the whole Earth would for the first time tangibly allow the planet to appear small, conceptually graspable and very much alone in the wilderness of space. Forty years later, the London-based new media artists, Thomson & Craighead, created the video Flat Earth (2007), a visualization of Earth that refers to a different perceptual moment.


Image: Thomson & Craighead, Flat Earth, 2007


Commissioned for Animate Projects in 2007, their project is not an unveiling of the spheric, "blue marble" image of the Earth as viewed from outer space but, rather, an attempt to describe the "flat" Earth as viewed from the membrane of the Internet. Blog entries and flickr photos interact with freely available satellite imagery to give a re-shaped conception of what space and distances between people effectively means in a networked world. The video begins in the tract housing of the American suburbs where we hear a performance of an actual blog entry from the angsty, young dancer, "teenangel." A few seconds later, we zoom into the sky above San Francisco as the bemused "patriot2000" informs us that he just read a translation of one of his blog posts into German and he's now curious to learn German. We travel across the globe to Zimbabwe, Iran, and Europe. It's a great seven minutes and it gets at something amazing about the Internet: if, according to Walter Benjamin, the technologies at the beginning of the 20th century allowed for perceptual reproduction to "keep pace with ...

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Found, Not Lost

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Recent art projects employing locative media and "radical cartogoraphy" have helped us consider the ways in which maps, city plans, and roads function as vehicles for ideology. They are technologies, in their own way: systems designed to facilitate the transmission of messages, the flow of goods and services, and the formation of real-life social networks. The School of Missing Studies (SMS) has formed their own "network for experimental study of cities marked by or currently undergoing abrupt transition." The group is led by Katherine Carl and Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss, two artists and academics currently based in the United States, but working primarily in Eastern Europe, along with a large group of active collaborators. Their projects tend to linger, going through new iterations as they move nomadically from venue to venue, taking on a site-specific element as they are shaped by the perspectives of local participants. For their Manhattan Shadow Project, a group of citydwellers with diverse backgrounds gathered with architects, artists, and writers from New York and Belgrade to create "a database of occurrences of Manhattan shadows--physical, metaphorical, and digital." Their explorations delved into the tools that have been used to draw lines in cities--from stenographic chalk borders to skyscrapers' ghostly silhouettes--and the social implications of these new forms of organization and building. Perhaps SMS's best-known project, the Lost Highway Expedition is a resuscitation of the unfinished 'Highway of Brotherhood and Unity' in the former Yugoslavia, a throughway constructed by volunteers of the republic, in the 1960s, to connect its major cities and cultures: Ljubljana, Zagreb, Beograd, and Skopje. SMS moved through these towns and other smaller ones along the way, working to initiate new art projects, ideas, and cross-cultural collaboration. The fruits of this work have been presented in shows, symposia, and a publication entitled Europe Lost and ...

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Landscapes in Motion

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Throughout his career, English filmmaker Patrick Keiller has explored the nuances of his country's landscape. His investigations are set apart by their interest in the way the social, economic and political forces have shaped the nation's geography. One of his most famous films, London (1994), is a documentary account of the year 1992 in England's capital, as narrated by a fictional protagonist "Robinson". Keiller captures the grit and strife of London during the early 1990s, against the turbulent backdrop of declining infrastructure, IRA bombings, and longstanding Tory rule. Keiller combines static camera shots of London streets and landmarks with a poetic voice-over to create landscapes that evoke the political situation of the time. In his new installation The City of the Future (2007), currently on view at the British Film Institute on London's Southbank, Keiller marks a new phase in his exploration of England's socio-economic geography. Based on his research project "The Future of the Landscape and the Moving Image" (2007) at the Royal College of Art, The City of the Future unfolds as a multi-channel installation composed of moving images of London's late 19th century and early 20th century urban landscape collected from "actuality films," an early genre of documentary film that loosely captures footage of events and areas. Using an interactive map, visitors to the space may select a city and play films corresponding to the location. As such, the participant is made aware not only of the differences and similarities of the city's urban geography over time, but also the ever-changing social and economic realities written on the city itself. - Caitlin Jones



Image: Patrick Keiller, The City of the Future, 2007

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