An Aerial Earth

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An Aerial Earth

3Nov09_GoogleEarth.jpg
Google Earth image of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, just outside of Atlanta.


In the two rooms of Gallery 44 at 401 Richmond Street West, you can see planes take off from Chicago’s O’Hare and Tokyo’s International Airport at the same time. The gallery’s current exhibition, entitled “Google Earth”—running from October 23 to November 28—features a handful of the millions of images captured by the aerial photography internet program.
Since the release of Google Earth 3.0 in 2005, our ability to view the world vastly improved. We can take a digital tour through the Grand Canyon, watch the midnight sun rise in the Arctic, or simply pinpoint our own house from above. And all of this can be done from the comfort of our desks (or couches or café table tops).
Halifax and Montreal–based artists Eryn Foster and John van der Woude illustrate the social implications of the enormous amount of visual information we receive from these photos. Foster’s Flight Simulation animation displays a shot of an aerial landscape with an overlay of computer-generated, continuous movements of abstract images. It comments on our increased sociological distance as we went from being mere passengers on a plane to participating in virtual navigation today. Van der Woude’s Airports series compiles Google Earth satellite photos of the nine busiest airports in the world. Gallery gazers can view the runway plan of Hartsfield Jackson in Atlanta or the observation towers at London’s Heathrow. The series is a commentary on how accessible airport information is, even in an age of terrorism.
As Foster and van der Woude demonstrate, this “developed” perspective, as they call it, alters our relationship with the Earth. No longer are we bystanders, but rather active participants in visual information sharing.
The show couldn’t be more timely, as it coincides with the release of Google’s Street View Toronto, a voyeuristic look at the city’s street corners, parks, storefronts, and pretty much anything else that happens in the public realm. Residents of Toronto—and anywhere in the world—can tour the city with just a few clicks of their mice.
The exhibition is an insightful visual interpretation of one of the most salient issues of our digital age. But if you can’t make it down to Gallery 44 to view the images in person, never fear. Just Google it.

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