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Artists Take On Surveillance State

Surveying the Terrain,” a new exhibition at Raleigh’s Contemporary Art Museum, CAM, uses surveillance and mapping tools towards artistic ends. 

The artists in the exhibition traded in their paintbrushes and canvases in favor of Google Earth, satellite images, and aerial photographs.  Brooklyn-based artist Matthew Jensen used Google Street view for his project 49 States, visiting every state except Hawaii.

“Matthew was able to—from his living room—visit 49 states and bring back images from each of these,” said Dan Solomon, the curator of the show, said in an interview on the State of Things. 

49 States features the sun shining in every photograph, creating a solar lens flare on the image.  Jensen focused on the sun to create a metaphor between the sun and Google. 

“Matthew, in talking about the work said, ‘Just as the sun touches everything, now Google touches everything,’” said Solomon, quoting Jensen. 

“Surveying the Terrain” also features art from photographer Doug Rickard and his project “A New America Picture” (Aperture/ 2012). 

Again, using Google Street View, Rickard amassed more than 10,000 images.  He zeroed in on low-income neighborhoods to create a portrait of blight, segregation, and economic disparity. 

“[Google] Street View blurs the faces largely… Because of the anonymity, you speak to larger macro things like economics, and like race and class,” said Rickard.

He continued, “I wanted to the picture to have these elements lining up.  The gesture of people in the scene, all of the light and color working in a sort of palate that’s powerful.”

However, from the thousands of images that Rickard captured with Google, he selected which images to display based on their aesthetic qualities.  The final set of photographs could stand alone as art objects.   

"Surveying the Terrain" is also available online at Daylight Digital. Click here to read an interview with Dan Solomon, Doug Rickard and Matthew Jensen and to see more of their photography.


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Shawn Wen joined the staff of The State of Things in March 2012 and served as associate producer until February 2014.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.