• Jo1

    Jenny Odell: 10 Waterslide Configurations

  • Jo2

    Jenny Odell: 77 Waste and Salt Ponds

  • Jo3

    Jenny Odell: 125 Swimming Pools

  • Jo4

    Jenny Odell: 120 Stadiums

  • Jo5

    Jenny Odell: 195 Yachts, Barges, Cargo Lines, Tankers and Other Ships

  • Jo6

    Jenny Odell: 104 Airplanes

  • Jo7

    Jenny Odell: 97 Nuclear Cooling Towers

  • Jo8

    Jenny Odell: Every Basketball Court in Manhattan

  • Jo9

    Jenny Odell: Every Baseball Diamond in Manhattan

  • Jo10

    Jenny Odell: 39 Landfills

  • Jo11

    Jenny Odell: All the People on Pier 39

  • Jo12dolores

    Jenny Odell: _All the People in Dolores Park _

Art

Jenny Odell

Posted by Rob Alderson,

San Francisco-based artist Jenny Odell must spend a terrific amount of time scouring Google images. She harvests particular features – like aeroplanes, baseball pitches or people in a park – and collects them in these fascinating, thought-provoking pictures. Her website bio includes among her likes: “thoughtful socks, dance parties and documentaries about powerful women who happen to be insane.” Utterly intrigued, we spoke to her to find out more.

When did you first start using Google satellite images in your work? What drew you to them?

I started using Google satellite imagery in my MFA program at the San Francisco Art Institute, three years ago. I was and still am drawn to the miniature aspect of satellite imagery – the sort of inherent nostalgia that one gets from looking at our own human structures from a totally non-human perspective.

I also like the idea of a long, continuous, scrollable image of the earth in which signs of humanity (pools, parking lots, nuclear cooling towers, etc.) can be read, as though it were some kind of tapestry. For this reason, I prefer to turn the labels off when I’m looking for things; without names and lines, Google Satellite becomes one giant picture, rather than what we think of as a map.

You say your collections allow us to, “read our own humanity” – what conclusions can we draw?

I draw different conclusions from each piece. One of the most interesting pieces to make was 39 Landfills. After searching for landfills long enough (again, with the labels off), I developed a method for finding them: find a big city, then find the suburbs, then find the exurbs, and then (inevitably) find a big gray blob.

It was like a period at the end of a sentence: if there are people, there will be trash, and the trash has to go somewhere. It was also telling that many of them were built in places that keep them hidden from us on the ground – only from above can we see them in their entirety. I found out that there was a huge landfill very, very close to my parents’ house in Morgan Hill – I now know where it is, but I can’t see it when I’m there because it’s behind a hill.

In general though, I think what the collections reveal is the utter contingency of the forms our civilization has taken. Viewing these pieces from above and in isolation brings home the fragility and time-specific nature of what we normally take for granted as our everyday, banal surroundings.

To see things from this perspective is to realize the strangeness of our structures as well as the ease with which they could be swept away.

Broadly speaking is Google Streetview a good or a bad thing for society?

Hard to say. I’d answer differently for the intent of Google Streetview an the reality of Google Streetview. The intent of it is to document every last street down to the minutest detail, and I think this would strange and terrible, not to mention that it would make things incredibly boring in a way.

However, the reality of Google Streetview is a different thing. The promise of endlessly detailed imagery draws us in until we run up against the current technical limit of its coverage: we find ourselves looking at and wondering about blurry faces, mysterious interactions, and open doors into which we cannot click to go inside.

What’s supposed to be detailed, utilitarian information becomes an accidental dreamworld where heads can be chopped off (by faulty image splicing) and one can pass from early morning to late afternoon in one click.

Based on the vicissitudes of Street View cameras, cars can “melt” and streets can end in what GSV-loving bloggers gleefully refer to as wormholes. This unintended effect, the human tendency to see something serendipitous or surreal in something like Google Street View, is something I find just short of magical. It’s what separates us from the robots.

Ra

Posted by Rob Alderson

Rob joined It’s Nice That as Online Editor in July 2011 before becoming Editor-in-Chief and working across all editorial projects including itsnicethat.com, Printed Pages, Here and Nicer Tuesdays. Rob left It’s Nice That in June 2015.

Most Recent: Art View Archive

  1. Jarvis-cocker-its-nice-that-tlist

    Pulp frontman, solo artist and deep-voiced saviour of Sunday afternoon radio Jarvis Cocker has turned his hand to art, in the form of his Paris exhibition 20 Golden greats. The works on show are “gold records” – fictitious awards that explore the mythology of the artefacts of the same name so often cited in rock biographies. In truth, the accolades have no value whatsoever, according to the gallery showing Jarvis’s work, “not only because they usually aren’t at all made with gold, but moreover because they are generally crafted in a manner at best vaguely artistic, and at worst, perfectly kitsch."

  2. Basquiat_warhol_guggenheim_int_list

    From subway graffitist to art world darling, Jean-Michel Basquiat was perhaps the quintessential New York artist. Before he came to embody that particularly urbane trinity of poetry, jazz and painting, the Brooklyn prodigy was spray painting cryptic messages on Lower Manhattan buildings under the moniker SAMO and selling sweatshirts and postcards emblazoned with his work. Basquiat was one of several graffiti artists to transition to the gallery, but the only one with such a meteoric ascent and with such staying power. By his early twenties he counted Andy Warhol as a friend and collaborator, and his impassioned brand of countercultural painting had completely taken New York by storm.

  3. List-sculpture-in-the-city-its-nice-that-tomoaki-suzuki-'zezi'-courtesy-corvi-mora_-london

    As this week’s public art-themed Nicer Tuesdays reminded us, it’s all too easy to take the masterpieces in full view around the city for granted. And while there’s a plethora of work to see all year round in many cities across the UK, from next week the City of London is placing work by the likes of Damien Hirst, Ai Weiwei and Adam Chodzko around the Square Mile to add a little culture to the landscape of our wolves of Threadneedle Street. This is the fifth year of the programme, Sculpture in the City, and will see a total of 14 works go on show. They will remain in situ until May next year.

  4. List-ai-wei-wei-an-archive-its-nice-that-

    Ai Weiwei has printed five years worth of his many, many tweets onto rice paper to form a new piece called An Archive . The artist has long used Twitter as a platform from which to protest Chinese government oppression, leading to a ban from Chinese Twitter. In an interview with The Creator’s Project, Ai tells how the piece, which is formed of thousands of pieces of printed rice paper, showcases a time when he could use the social network for “discussions and memories of the past, as well as predictions for the future. Twitter was an exercise for the mind and one where you are fully exposed to the public."

  5. Royal_academy_summer_exhibition_poster_list

    I never thought I’d use the word irreverent to describe the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy. Since 1769 the RA has taken a fairly unwavering and conservative approach to the world’s largest open submission exhibition, hanging up to 1,000 works by both amateur artists and great names. Long the lacklustre foxhole of stuffy Academicians and part-time painters, this year marks the greatest effort the RA has made yet to reinvigorate the English summer stalwart.
     
    It’s no surprise that the man behind the brightest, boldest edition yet is Michael Craig-Martin, this year’s curator and the artist best known for his Pop Art palette and his tutorship of YBA trailblazers Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas. Among his modernisms for the show is the decision to repaint the three central galleries in colours lifted straight from his work: hot pink, turquoise and baby blue. Far from playing to mere spectacle, Craig-Martin’s trademark penchant for polychrome is a bold statement that does away with both the white cube mis-en-scène of contemporary art and the fusty grandeur of the Academy. Regular attendees might also notice he has made the print galleries more central.

  6. Jim_lambie_zobop_ra_it's_nice_that_list

    For this year’s Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy, Scottish artist Jim Lambie has transformed the storied art institution’s grand staircase with one of his kaleidoscopic floor installations and shaken up the English cultural calendar highlight. Using hundreds of strips of adhesive vinyl tape, Lambie’s eye-catching floor work follows the architecture of the Academy and is part of his ongoing series Zobop. The 2005 Turner Prize nominee’s slightly riotous, technicolour stairs breathe new life into the neo-classical space, and the optical effect packs huge impact, fittingly leading the way to the boldest, brightest edition of the Summer Exhibition in its nearly 250-year run.

  7. Nina-chanel-abney-its-nice-that-list

    The carnivalesque colours and vibrant busyness caught our eye in Nina Chanel’s work; her attitude and subject matter kept us looking. Nina is based in New Jersey, and uses bright brushstrokes and text to explore issues of race, politics, sex and the strange world of celebrity. How? Through a strange troupe of aliens, strange symbols and rainbow colours. Surrealism plays with pop art and high-brow plays with low-brow in her huge e-number fuelled pieces, which carry a depth belying their initially saccharine appearances.

  8. David-shrigley-football-mascot-its-nice-that-top

    David Shrigley has designed a rather strange mascot for Scottish Premiership football team Partick Thistle. Shrigley – a fan of the team – was appointed to create the little yellow jagged character, named Kingsley, as part of the team’s new sponsorship deal with US investment firm Kingsford Capital. The artist also created the brand mark that will appear on Thistle kits and around its home stadium.

  9. Luis-vasallo-itsnicethat-list

    Life drawing classes are more often than not the conservative preserve of academic art, but Luis Vassallo’s nudes tell a different story. Luis’ series A Life Drawing Class, made as part of a collaboration with Hot and Cool magazine, is a refreshing take on a somewhat strait-laced tradition. Over the course of several weeks the Madrid-based artist transformed the models in front of him into adventurous images that juxtapose the classical with the surreal, mixing and matching a number of drawing styles – often in the same sketch – from hard-edged geometry and soft, rolling forms that alternate between clean pencil lines and those in thick jagged charcoal. Finding inspiration in the Italian avant garde and the 60s revival of figurative art, Luis is clear that his work is less about looking back and more about finding a way to pick up where these 20th Century movements left off. The results are unlike any nudes we’ve seen before.

  10. Jackson-pollock_-number-34-1949-its-nice-that-list

    As one of the most instantly recognisable modern artists and a GCSE art staple, it’s tempting to think there’s little we haven’t seen of Jackson Pollock’s work. A new exhibition at Tate Liverpool, however, proves us wrong. The exhibition, entitled Blind Spots, is the first in more than 30 years to show his late black pouring works. Some we’ll know, many we won’t, but all prove – if proof were needed – what an important, inspirational figure Pollock was. He managed to bring tricky concepts of Abstract Expressionism into the minds of a far wider audience than the art world inner circle, and his works are surely some of the most oft-seen, yet never tiresome artworks of the last century.

  11. Matthew_craven_demiurge_it's_nice_that_list

    Matthew Craven’s dizzying mix of ink patterns, cut-outs and ancient culture is as powerful as it is studied. We’ve written about the New York artist’s vivid collages before, and in his most recent series demiURGE, Matthew pairs both tribal and Greek sculpture with his hand-drawn designs and recurring motifs. His images play with materials as much as they play with time, and with their lost relics and archeological curiosities it’s as if Matthew has picked through old history textbooks and back issues of National Geographic for the mystic effect that makes his work so instantly recognisable. Pairing busts, masks, vases and classical bric-a-brac with optical patterns, Matthew’s collages always prove greater than the sum of their parts.

  12. Richard_prince_new_portraits_it's_nice_that_list

    Richard Prince’s New Portraits have proven to be nothing short of sensational. The artist’s controversial series has seen him take other people’s Instagram posts, print them on six-foot canvases and sell them for up to $90,000. The only changes made to these images of everyone from Pamela Anderson to total unknowns are the bewildering or lewd remarks Prince adds to the comments thread. As of last Friday, ten of these new works are on show at Gagosian London. “The iPhone became my studio,” Prince says somewhere in the seven-page stream of consciousness that makes up the press release.

    For the last 40 years the New York artist has inspired everything from acclaim to outrage for the unapologetic appropriation that has defined much of his work. As the man who reprinted copies of JD Salinger’s classic teenage anthem Catcher in the Rye with his own name in place of the author’s, Prince has found himself on the wrong side of copyright lawsuits multiple times. Resulting opinions of him tend to violently swing between genius and good-for-nothing. In the case of the New Portraits series, Peter Schjeldahl writing for the New Yorker’s response to the screenshot-cum-paintings was “something like a wish to be dead,” whilst sex writer Karley Sciortino has said she felt honoured to be included in the series.

    In an unexpected but fitting turn, people seemed to feel slightly vindicated when some of Prince’s unauthorised Instagram reproductions were recently reproduced and resold by some of their original subjects, namely the LA-based group of alternative pin-up girls and burlesque dancers operating under the moniker SuicideGirls. “Payback!” headlines screamed, but this ceaseless loop of feedback and mirroring perfectly plays to Prince’s raison d’être. Even this is not the artist’s own, and in his ideas about enshrining banality and popular culture he is most definitely walking in Warhol’s slightly worn-out silver shoes.

    Mining the internet for source material is not new either, but as abhorrent as they may be, Prince’s portraits eloquently teach a powerful lesson in the trappings of social networking. They test public and private limits and have started an important and much-needed conversation about copyright and art in the digital age. They have also been sharp reminders that our self-exposure and digital exhibitionism doesn’t exist in the vacuums of our various feeds, but very much enters into public territory.

    The most absurd part in all of this postmodernist pageantry however, happened during my exchange with Gagosian’s PR when I asked for press images and was told, “I’m afraid that we don’t have permission to use any images of any individual works.” Irony is a beautiful, twisted thing.

  13. 9.koons_tulipanes-itsnicethat-list

    There’s been a lot of conversation in the studio recently about art exhibitions that beg to be photographed, and they don’t come much more Instagrammable than the Jeff Koons retrospective. Having started out at New York’s Whitney Museum and then progressing to Paris’ Centre Pompidou, the show has just begun the final leg of its journey at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, where we attended the opening last week; to take a selfie with the balloon dog, among other things.