Project
Close Up at a Distance, Mapping Technology Politics
person role
Author(s): 
Laura Kurgan
Publication date: 
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Publication name, page number: 
Zone Books, 2013
Description (optional): 
The past two decades have seen revolutionary shifts in our ability to navigate, inhabit, and define the spatial realm. The data flows that condition much of our lives now regularly include Global Positioning System (GPS) readings and satellite images of a quality once reserved for a few militaries and intelligence agencies, and powerful geographic information system (GIS) software is now commonplace. These new technologies have raised fundamental questions about the intersection between physical space and its representation, virtual space and its realization. In Close Up at a Distance, Laura Kurgan offers a theoretical account of these new digital technologies of location and a series of practical experiments in making maps and images with spatial data. Neither simply useful tools nor objects of wonder or anxiety, the technologies of GPS, GIS, and satellite imagery become, in this book, the subject and the medium of a critical exploration. Close Up at a Distance records situations of intense conflict and struggle, on the one hand, and fundamental transformations in our ways of seeing and of experiencing space, on the other. Kurgan maps and theorizes mass graves, incarceration patterns, disappearing forests, and currency flows in a series of cases that range from Kuwait (1991) to Kosovo (1999), New York (2001) to Indonesia (2010). Using digital spatial hardware and software designed for military and governmental use in reconnaissance, secrecy, monitoring, ballistics, the census, and national security, Kurgan engages and confronts the politics and complexities of these technologies and their uses. At the intersection of art, architecture, activism, and geography, she uncovers, in her essays and projects, the opacities inherent in the recording of information and data and reimagines the spaces they have opened up.
Intro text (homepage): 
Close Up at a Distance records situations of intense conflict and struggle, on the one hand, and fundamental transformations in our ways of seeing and of experiencing space, on the other.
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Author C4SR: 
Author Last Names for table: 
Kurgan
Publication short title (carousel): 
Close Up at a Distance, Mapping Technology Politics
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dashboard_sort_date: 
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
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"How a Map is Like an Op Ed"
Aug 23, 2013 — Laura Kurgan

How a Map Is Like an Op-Ed

"Thanks to the open data movement, anyone can be a cartographer. Professor Laura Kurgan on geography as a storytelling tool.

Thanks to the open data movement and Google Map Maker, anyone with a computer can create a map. These maps tell a story, but it's a subjective one. And while that can be a powerful tool, it can also skew perspectives and cloud a debate.

"We should really teach people to read maps in that way," says Laura Kurgan, an associate professor of architecture at Columbia University. "Maps are arguments, just like a piece of written journalism is an argument."

That's what Kurgan is attempting to show in her new book, Close Up at a Distance, which includes several of her mapping projects. When Kurgan graduated from architecture school, she says, digital technology was just starting to enter her field. Today, data is everywhere. It opens a much larger realm of mapping and interpretation."

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"Ways of Seeing" Review of "Close Up at a Distance"
Aug 23, 2013 — Trevor Paglen, Bookforum

Treavor Paglen reviews Laura Kurgan's new book Close Up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology, and Politics in Bookforum. He writes: 

"On December 24, 1968, Apollo 8 emerged from its fourth lunar cycle on the first manned mission to another celestial body. “Oh, my God,” cried astronaut Frank Borman as the spacecraft emerged from the moon’s dark side. “Look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up! Wow, is that pretty.” Crew member William Anders grabbed a modified Hasselblad camera and shot what has become an iconic photograph. In countless reproductions, Earthrise depicts our planet in the distance, a blue-and-white spot rising above a cratered and ashen lunar landscape, set against the blackness of space.

Laura Kurgan’s Close Up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology, and Politics opens on a reproduction of Earthrise and of another iconic image of Earth, the Blue Marblephotograph, shot four years later from Apollo 17. These two pictures are some of the most widely reproduced in history. In the popular imagination, they’ve become synonymous with the environmental movement, underlining the fact that, in the grand scheme of things, we live on a small, isolated, and fragile planet. But the pair of images are also emblematic of something else: the dawn of what historian Benjamin Lazier calls the “Earthrise Era.” We are now deep within this revolutionary moment—pictures and dynamic maps generated from space-based platforms are a part of our everyday lives. Since mapping technologies first began trickling into consumer products such as GPS navigation systems and smartphones, the view from above has become so ubiquitous that we seldom reflect on it. “We do not stand at a distance from these technologies,” Kurgan writes, “but are addressed by and embedded within them.”"

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