Review of "Technological Earth Visions: Remote Views and Disembodied Landscapes"
March 12, 2021,
The overarching theme for this workshop was about examining the role of advanced visual technologies and their scope turned towards our lived environments and visions of the earth. The discussion ultimately lead toward how these visual technologies have the capacity to reconstitute an understanding of both vision and visuality as well as a knowledge of and relationship to, our earthly environment.
A reoccurring visual reference throughout the workshop was the photograph which has famously been referred to as the ‘Blue Marble.’ It is an image of the earth taken from the Apollo spacecraft in 1972 and since its public presentation, has been attached to ideas of unity and peace. Max Liljefors an art historian who presented first, discussed both a political and philosophical imagination attached to this image. He referenced the campaign by Stuart Brand in 1966 and his 25 cent buttons that stated “Why haven’t we seen a photograph of the whole earth yet?” recalling a wide–spread belief that an image of the whole earth would drastically change people’s attitudes towards how we think about the planet and ourselves and bring about a sense of shared global community. Liljefors highlights the remote perspective of the eventual images, both the “Blue Marble” image and an earlier version taken by satellite in 1967, captured at 30,000-45,000 km afar and outlines how on the one hand, these images of the earth depict a kind of estrangement through a disembodied perspective of its remote view and yet on the other hand, also resulted in producing a kind of embodied response in the form of empathy. Liljefors poses a hypothesis on how images which depict a kind of physical detachment may also at the same time, allow for ‘simulative interactions,’ further embodying new forms of attachment and producing new simulative energies.
Geocinema, an artistic collaboration of Asia Bazdyrieva and Solveig Qu then presented their episodic video works that explore the use of remote sensing technologies, specifically focusing their study on the development of an expansive, Chinese -lead digitized trade network that spans the same region as the historical Silk Road, called the Digital Belt and Roads (DBAR) project. The motif of the ‘Blue Marble’ appeared again in discussion of historical images of the earth but also in physical form of a giant globe which sits in the foyer of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. As part of their project, Basdyrieva and Qu filmed the physical sites of DBAR infrastructure which includes the Chinese Academy as well as extensive roadways across regions of China saddled with massive satellite teleports. As part of their presentation Bazdyrieva and Qu presented a vision of the world understood ‘as useful,’ conjuring up a Foucauldian approach towards the body under socio-political regimes, but in this case through the agenda of trade logistics and infrastructures of governance. They discussed earth viewed as a resource and the building of these digitized networks of remote sensing operations as forms of ‘algorithmic extraction.’ They remark how the contemporary distributed practices of big data and remote sensing create a virtual representation of the planet, yet this representation is not so much about the earth being ‘seen’ per say, but rather how it functions for operations of calculation and measurement. As their artistic name suggests, Bazdyrieva and Qu utilize the distributed cinematic apparatus of remote sensing technologies as well as video, to counter what they deem as ‘invisible regimes’ of big (earthly) data and highlight the relationship between contemporary practices of remote sensing and the socio-political implications of planetary management.
The next and final speaker was Joanna Zylinska, professor of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths who discussed a kind of explosion of planetary visions through visual technologies, specifically through the popular use of the amateur drone. She extended the provocation brought about by Brand in Liljefor’s talk and posed the question, “Why haven’t we seen a photograph of the whole universe yet?” Approaching the subject of planetarity, Zylinska opened up her talk with the question, “What planet are we on?” This initial question brought muted –as in Zoom– but visible laughter among the workshop audience members, indicative of a shared sentiment of confusion and displacement among people during these pandemic times. Zylinska, who’s topic centered on the production of amateur drone images including her own, contrasted the often–heroic images found on social networks of clean, composed and architectural views of the earth’s surface from the aerial perspective of a drone with images of obscuration, blur and oblique angles which can also be captured by drone. Referencing Hito Steyerl’s seminal essay on the ‘poor image,’ Zylinska held up what she termed, the ‘loser image’ captured by amateur drone as a feminist rejoinder to the gendered, dominant aerial view by drone. She referenced it with a presentation of her own practice with a drone which included having it fly off and then crashing. In relation, she brought up the use of bricolage by feminist scholars and practitioners, a practice in which the processes of construction and formulation including all of its uncertainty, diversions and seeming failures are included as part of the discourse, a practice she noted which is often intentionally absent in scholarly output.
Zylinska’s talk closed out the presentation bringing the audience up to date on a contemporary condition, found again through the visual motif of the earth as seen from afar. Through a grid of various images of a globe and globe-like forms, Zylinska highlighted the growing multiplication of visions of the earth. Mirroring the multiple squares of faces found watching in the Zoom format of the workshop, it seemed like a fitting visual to end the presentations with.