• 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

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.

Most Recent: Art View Archive

  1. List

    Swedish creative Henrik Franklin is a designer, illustrator and animator with two of the world’s leading design schools (Konstfack in Sweden and Rhode Island School of Design) sparkling on his CV. Invited to showcase his considerable talents in Anna Lidberg’s Gallery 1:10 – “the miniature gallery for contemporary art” – Henrik produced a table of tiny tomes and the attention-to-detail on each cover design is really impressive.

  2. Main

    Victoria Siddall has worked at Frieze for just over a decade and two years ago was made Director of Frieze Masters. Excitingly, just a few weeks ago she was appointed Director of Frieze Masters, Frieze New York and Frieze London. As well as being one of the most powerful women in the art world, Victoria is also my sister, so I was curious to find out how she’s feeling on the dawn of her new career.

  3. List

    The Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern has an incredible presence when it’s void of installations, which is what’s so wonderful about the huge enclosed space. As much as I admire the vast emptiness though, it’s even more exciting when a piece of work is placed in the hall and interrupts the vacuum. Opening today, American sculptor Richard Tuttle is the latest commissioned artist to show his work in the space and his 24ft sculpture certainly makes an impact.

  4. Main2

    I came across the work of Matthias Geisler over on Booooooom the other day and was reminded that we hadn’t posted something like this in a while. Matthias’ work is a swirling blend of spirits and creatures that are created with meticulous use of pencil crayons and water-colours. Is it me or are watercolours real in at the moment? All the cool kids seem to be using them.

  5. 8

    A kind of magic happens when Seth Armstrong puts brush to canvas. Having only been familiar with his work for the Mr Porter Journal, I became instantly bewitched by his paintings when clicking through his website.

  6. List

    Whatever the some naysayers may claim there is an art to collage and not everyone can do it, despite how good you think your teenage collages of cut-out red lips, Leonardo DiCaprio and puppies were. Anthony Zinonos is the perfect example of this, having featured on the site previously he’s updated his portfolio with some really cool bits and bobs.

  7. List

    There’s something very fun and raw about Jessica Hans’ vases and her approach to ceramics in general. Based in Philadelphia, she’s had a longstanding interest in foraging and raw materials since university; this has carried over into her ceramics work, which in the past has seen her driving to clay sites, digging her materials out of the ground and then firing them in their original state to see what would happen.

  8. Listt

    “To be an artist and for anyone to care vaguely about what you do is a great thing,” says street artist Moose in this fascinating new Nissan campaign, but his work is more important than most. As the inventor of reverse graffiti – whereby he uses a high-powered pressure washer to stencil imagery in the dirt that accumulates in our cities – Moose’s work asks questions about our attitudes to pollution in a very creative way.

  9. List

    To stare into a Danny Fox painting is like waking up in a world written by Charles Bukowski on a particularly heavy bender. There’s sex and drinking and guns, plus boxers and strippers and cowboys; here a horse, there a tiger. It’s intense and unnerving and exciting, but although there’s something very contemporary about Danny’s paintings, his rise to prominence owes a great deal to the support of a more well-established artist (an age-old route for up-and-coming artistic stars).

  10. Listjmp_cg_house_float_10

    Heads are turning in Covent Garden this morning, and they’re not just looking at the usual street performers – they’re gawping at a levitating building. Master of illusions Alex Chinneck’s latest mind-boggling public art installation is on show in what must surely be the spiritual home of his craft; one of the busiest piazzas in London and its theatrical hub. His floating building follows on from a sliding house, upside down house and many other puzzling optical illusions.

  11. List

    Back in 2013 designers Jessica Walsh and Timothy Goodman launched 40 Days of Dating, where they entered into a seven week relationship with each other to explore the world of romance from a creative perspective.

  12. Main

    Switzerland-based artist Pascale Keung makes delightfully diverse work which is inspired by her chosen country’s stunning natural landscape as often as it is by wild fantasies. This series Muttsee is an example of the former, a collection of images about “a very special place in the Alps of Switzerland” where she goes to fish with her friends from time to time.

  13. List

    Anna Burns is a set designer with a taste for the ambitious. Who could forget her work with Thomas Brown where they created B-Movie inspired installations out of flammable umbrellas? For her latest work Anna has collaborated with Michael Bodiam on a series inspired by nuclear catastrophe and our contradictory attitudes towards it – apocalyptic fear on the one hand and weird fascination on the other.