Most spiders have eight eyes. Google has nine.
Jon Rafman (1981, Montreal), an artist-cum-netronaut always on the frontline of our virtual expansion, is fascinated by Google's panoramic views that support our insatiable need for navigation. Thanks to Sid Lee Collective GUP met up with Jon in real life and asked him some questions concerning his Nine Eyes project (see more in our online portfolio).
What made you decide to initiate this project?
In 2007, Google started to send out an army of hybrid electric automobiles, each one bearing nine cameras on a single pole. I am interested in how they approach the registration of the world as a neutral, unbiased recording. But also in the vastness of the project. This infinitely rich mine of material gives me the opportunity to explore, interpret and curate a new place in a new way.
How do you select?
One year ago, I started collecting screen captures from a range of Street View blogs and through my personal hunting. To a certain extent, the aesthetic considerations that form the basis of my choices in different collections vary. Initially, I was attracted to the noisy amateur aesthetic of the raw images; an urgency that I felt was present in earlier street photography. With the panoramas, I can locate images of gritty urban life reminiscent of that hard-boiled style of imagery. You mentioned street photography. In what way does Google Street View relate to that tradition or genre? Unspoiled by the sensitivities or agendas of a human photographer, Google Street Views recorded a never-before- seen side of humanity, urbanity and photography itself. Yet the mode of production – an automated camera shooting from a height of eight feet from the middle of the street, the blurring of faces, the unique digital texture – nonetheless limits and defines the images’ visual aesthetic.
There are other people collecting images on Google View. How do you compare your work to, let's say, that of Michael Wolf?
I do not have the illusion of being the first, nor the ambition to be the only artist working with Google View. Besides that, the medium – like any other – gives enough creative space to find a personal approach. Some adopt an investigative attitude and regale us with possible or actual crimes, such as muggings, break-ins and police arrests. Others with a more libidinal nature may single out images of prostitutes captured by the roving Google vehicle. Myself, I am very much interested in that absence of a moral dimension and like to challenge the imperial claim to organise information for us. I believe it is important to question the company's right to be the only one framing our cognition and perception. You have been called an 'internet-aware artist'.
What are your thoughts on that title?
Since obtaining my MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, my daily work has more or less involved surfing the internet for epic finds and inspirational banality. By selection and editing I am functioning both as an artist and as a curator, constructing and deciphering 'meaning' at the same time. Obviously, this way of working creates a cultural text like any other, but it is exactly the tension between an automated camera and a human who seeks meaning, reflecting our modern experience, that I am interested in. The gap between a structured and structuring space, that is my playground.