Close up at a distance, Laura Kurgan

There are a number of people engaging in really thoughtful and thought-provoking artistic, activist and political engagements/interventions with geographical (topographical) technologies, which are very much worth paying attention to. Work by Jordan Crandall, Laura Kurgan, Lisa Price and Trevor Paglen, amongst others, I think offers some really interesting ways of critically thinking about, and engaging with, the various kinds of mappings we (as socieities) are variously undertaking for sometimes not-so-benevolent causes.

Laura Kurgan’s recent Close Up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology and Politics has attracted some deserved attention by geographers and, in a similar vein to Patrick Crogan’s excellent Gameplay Mode, offers an interesting critical engagement with the military origins of satellite mapping and imaging technologies. Kurgan argues that we cannot stand at a ‘critical distance’ to evaluate these technologies but rather –  we are “addressed by and embedded within them”. Thus – “Only through a certain intimacy with these technologies–an encounter with their opacities, their assumptions, their intended aims–can we begin to assess their full ethical and political stakes” (page 14).

Columba Peoples, from the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies at the University of Bristol, has written a good review of Kurgan’s Close Up at a Distance for the open access book reviews section of Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, which is online here and well worth a read.

Also, Laura Kurgan and Trevor Paglen engaged in a fascinating conversation about their practice at Columbia University earlier this year, which was recorded and is available on YouTube:

Note: Trevor’s mic doesn’t work very well and he’s muffled for a bit at the beginning but it gets fixed so stick with it!

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