How many baseball diamonds are there in Manhattan? According to Jenny Odell, 116. And how does she know? Because she's put in the time scouring satellite images of New York City's surface on Google Earth, collecting every sighting of a field, compiling and displaying them all at once like so:
Odell, who was born in the Californian town of Mountain View, where Google would eventually set its roots, calls her project "Satellite Collections."
She is drawn to the parking lots, pools and silos she finds while scanning the satellite images because, she writes in an email, "they're things we often overlook or take for granted as part of our environment; but somehow, from a satellite point of view, they reveal themselves to be (somewhat) ubiquitous signs of human civilization, popping up in certain places while the surrounding area may simply be desert or mountains. From this perspective there's something very fragile and nostalgic about them."
It's funny to think about our humanity distilled and separated into discrete little clusters, neatly organized — the very act of categorizing itself a universal tendency among humans. These familiar landmarks are plucked from their native environments to float, context-less, with others of their kind. Sometimes it takes a minute to recognize the forms in Odell's compilations.
"Satellite Collections" is one of several art projects that have used the visual data supplied by Google's Maps and Earth applications. Clement Valla's gallery of warped bridges and roads culls artifacts of the program's automated image stitching. Michael Wolf's photo essay of odd moments caught by van-mounted Google Maps cameras controversially won an honorable mention in the photojournalistic World Press Photo contest. And then there are websites devoted to Google sightseeing, where people share the most interesting finds of their virtual exploration.
Odell usually likes to "wander" through the maps, turning labels off so she loses track of where she is. "It's a lot like being in a plane," she writes, "flying over your own country but not actually being able to tell where you are or exactly what you're looking at. I like the idea of the Earth as an endlessly readable surface."
You can see more of Jenny Odell's work on her website. What other art projects have you heard of that use Google Maps? Do you have a project of your own that you'd like to share?