Where is the Center of a City?
August 29, 2011
Photos courtesy of the artist.
From making paper glasses that turn life into a game of Counterstrike, to embedding flash drives in city walls to build a file sharing network in real space, German artist Aram Bartholl has been staging small- and large-scale interventions that question where the boundaries are today between the physical environment and the digital world. Map is a public installation through which this former architecture student explores what these increasingly overlapping realms mean for our cities. Click to see more!
Starting in 2006, Bartholl created a series of six-meter tall sculptures of the iconic red marker used by Google Maps. The artist had recognized that the familiar 20-pixel graphic used by Google casts shadows on the widely consulted digital maps as if they were physical objects in real space. Likewise, when the map is switched to satellite mode, the virtual pins seem to become part of the city.
The artist thus built and installed these towering wooden sculptures in various cities, placing them exactly in the spots that Google Maps had determined to be the city center of each respective city. By blowing Google’s red markers up to “life-size” and physically planting them in actual places, Bartholl brings attention to the blurring between real and virtual space. His cheeky sculptures ask the question: where is the center of a city?
Bartholl’s sculptures physically mark the “centers” of our cities as well as how much our society has allowed life online to bleed into life offline. Map forces us to slow down and recognize how the perception of the city is increasingly shaped by flat, digital renderings of our world. What the artist suggests is that our physically inhabited spaces are increasingly affected by virtual determinants over real ones.
In an interview on Rhizome, the artist explained how he was unconvinced by the classic idea of cyberspace, exemplified in films like The Matrix and in early William Gibson novels. Instead, he ventures to say that this long romanticized concept is slowly becoming a reality and taking a very different shape. Digital space has been unfolding into physical space for years now, and according to Bartholl, “Facebook today is much more likely our Matrix.”