Sitting in front of a computer is typically considered antithetical to exploring the world. However, technology is changing that. With programs and online databases, Google Earth and Streetview allows a person to see a 360-degree view from more spots on the planet than anyone could ever actually visit.
Digital imagery, by nature of its encyclopedia capacity for archiving, and the automated means by which it can be recalled and stitched into a “view,” is altering the nature of what we understand as space. “Virtual” doesn’t quite describe it, because the imaged network of data hallways that one crawls down is not artificial, but actual–made from the real world that is. The fact that we are not present in the place we are seeing in the picture, doesn’t make it any less of a real place, or our vision of the image any less real. “Space”, in the sense of three dimensions, is occurring, and that space is truthful. However, it is still different from actually going and visiting the spot.
But space that is not live, but digital: can it be sculptural? It may be accurate, vivid, and engaging, but is it an aesthetic interpretation of that space? It is photography, surely, but can it be architecture? Can it be sculpture?
In visiting the Morgan Cowles Archive at the Center for Land Use Interpretation, I am driven to say that yes, it can be. The Morgan Cowles Archive is not a place exactly, but it is of place. It is a collection of digital images held by the Center for Land Use Interpretation, am educational, research, and arts organization focusing on the use of land. The Archive is a website, showing a collection of images of various places, most of them outdoors, organized by tagged subject. The tags are both playful and descriptive, varying from “Dams”, to “Questions”, to “Heaven and Hell”. Upon clicking on one of these selections, the visitor is presented with a page of images, with no other contextual information (although the city and state can be accessed by clicking on the full sized image.)
It is reminiscent of Dina Kelberman’s I’m Google project, in which the artist finds visually similar, but potentially contextually strange, digital images from around the internet and posts them in succession on a website. However, while Kelberman’s images certainly fall into the discipline of Net Art or New Media Art, the Morgan Cowles Archive feels like sculpture.
The images of the Morgan Cowles Archive are all real spaces, that a person went to, and took a photograph. Each represents not just the image itself, but the possibility of having a unique experience in space. Certain repeated concepts that we come across in space–like trees wrapped in burlap, satellite dishes, or even signs posted noting the possibility of surveillance–become a form when represented in succession. They have aesthetics, they are experienced by us in particular ways. We confront them, move around them, and are changed by their presence. Anyone could, if prompted, go online and find an image of a satellite dish that conceivably exists in the world. But when one is presented with a page of satellite dishes that others have actually encountered in the world and then put online, that process is altered. Rather than simply satisfying a search term, the Archive depicts how sculptural a particular digital concept can be. The Archive is the digital possibility of the interpretation of space, presented subjectively, purely, with as little in the way of exegesis as possible.
By: Adam Rothstein
All photos from the CLUI Morgan Cowles Archive, published under an Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Creative Commons License.