I am a Pixel is a multi-media interactive installation exploring the personal and experiential aspects embedded within aerial photography, specifically that of Google Earth. It highlights the complexity and politics embedded in the now everyday, nonchalant, and subconscious experience of exploring surveillance tools, and encourages a new contemplative approach to our participation in it. This approach questions the dialogue between the watcher and the watched while divulging the realities embedded in its invisibility, revealing the relationships between the machines that view us and how we are viewed. Experiments in mediums including print, physical artifacts, websites, film, and spatial installations investigate approaches and readings, coalescing in a new understanding for the audience which translates the complexity and vastness of aerial photography into digestible, relatable events. The relationship between physical artifacts and digital interactions expand on previous works in this thesis, that explore analogy and metaphor as means to understand scale.
Through two overarching themes inspired by the evolution of directional gaze as an act of wonder, from an upward gaze to a downward gaze, the localization of the everyday spaces we reside in are explored. Historically, looking up into the sky was a moment of fascination, contemplation, and wonder. Yet as technology allowed for greater reach of what we as humans see, the reversed gaze of looking down onto ourselves has taken over as our most common view. We look down into our devices which look down onto us. This project attempts to reveal this shift and allow for moments of reversal. These two views are explored in isolation, to challenge that which views and that which is viewed.
While this project analyzes this relationship from the poles—looking up and looking down—both gazes focus on a specific moment in the Google Earth interface. At 2525 ft. above the surface of the earth the complexity of a human being is translated into a single pixel. To highlight this moment, the multiple experiments of this project tease out and reveal their invisible nature of what it means to be represented and reside in these mediums and what we might do to stake more of a claim. The project also attempts to counteract this forced downward gaze by attempting to reinsert a human element back into the sky. By building a personal satellite and releasing it into the sky, this relationship between the camera and the pixel is compounded. Standing on the platform and viewing the satellite released to its extents, the audience is encouraged to look up and evaluate their relationship with the invisible systems around us.
This work was inspired by projects that explore scale in public space. Specifically works like James Bridle’s Drone Shadows and Helmet Smit’s Dead Pixel in Google Earth which visualize digital ecosystems at full scale. I Am a Pixel differs in its attempt to re-humanize these ecosystems, reinserting the presence of the human being which often goes unnoticed and overlooked. While the world of Google Earth looks familiar, it does not feel like the world I reside in. These explorations attempt to visualize that notion, reinserting the humanity of an image, therefore questioning our existence in the infinite loop of looking down onto ourselves through the mechanical eye of the satellite. This project attempts to conclude the complex journey with a simple result. It is not necessarily a data visualization—representing a beautified version of large numbers which still mask a complexity—but engages an experiential form of visualization which encourages an audience to simply walk outside, look up, and contemplate their existence in this invisible world.