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Close Up at a Distance
The maps in this book are drawn with satellites, assembled with pixels radioed from outer space, and constructed from statistics; they record situations of intense conflict and express fundamental transformations in our ways of seeing and of experiencing space. These maps are built with Global Positioning Systems (GPS), remote sensing satellites, or Geographic Information Systems (GIS): digital spatial hardware and software designed for such military and governmental uses as reconnaissance, secrecy, monitoring, ballistics, the census, and national security. Rather than shying away from the politics and complexities of their intended uses, in Close Up at a Distance Laura Kurgan attempts to illuminate them. Poised at the intersection of art, architecture, activism, and geography, her analysis uncovers the implicit biases of the new views, the means of recording information they present, and the new spaces they have opened up.
Her presentation of these maps reclaims, repurposes, and discovers new and even inadvertent uses for them, including documentary, memorial, preservation, interpretation, political, or simply aesthetic. GPS has been available to both civilians and the military since 1991; the World Wide Web democratized the distribution of data in 1992; Google Earth has captured global bird’s-eye views since 2005. Technology has brought about a revolutionary shift in our ability to navigate, inhabit, and define the spatial realm. The traces of interactions, both physical and virtual, charted by the maps in Close Up at a Distance define this shift.
About the Author
Laura Kurgan is Associate Professor of Architecture at the Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation, and Planning at Columbia University, where she is Director of the Spatial Information Design Lab and Director of Visual Studies.
“Here is an extraordinary book: a beautifully designed and politically consequential geography of power. Vision from space goes far deeper here than merely one of contemplating the earth from above. In Close Up at a Distance, Laura Kurgan brings us forms of sight that range from the environmental eye to the optics of mass murder in Balkans; from postwar urban planning in Kuwait to the internal migration of inner-city residents to out-of-city prisons. If you want to see what politics through design can be, read this.”
—Peter Galison, Joseph Pellegrino University Professor, Harvard University
“Close Up at a Distance is an urgent call for an ethico-political project adequate to our age of global imaging technologies. Because new kinds of satellite representations determine how we know the world, we must free ourselves from authoritarian—purportedly objective—interpretations of these images and, understanding how they are produced and used, assume responsibility for critical interpretations and uses. Artfully, Kurgan shows us how. Her nine mapping projects use satellite technologies to create alternative images or to divert existing ones from their official, commercial, and military functions. This book brilliantly theorizes and demonstrates the democratic importance of technological literacy.”
—Rosalyn Deutsche, author of Hiroshima after Iraq: Three Studies in Art and War
“Close Up at a Distance is both a contemporary history of the use of geographic images for advocacy and analysis, and a sophisticated critique of the aesthetic, technical, and political decisions that underlie them. Kurgan is rightly known for maps that help us see social issues in a new light, but this book establishes her as one of the key thinkers about images, influence, and power.”
—Ethan Zuckerman, Director, Center for Civic Media, MIT