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Close up at distance kurgan cover

Media Studies, Environments

Close Up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology, and Politics

Laura Kurgan


232 pp

175 color illus.

50 black and white illus.

Published: February 2013

7.5 x 9






ISBN: 9781935408284

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).

“If you want to see what politics through design can be, read this.” — Peter Galison

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.

“In terms of the overall implications of Kurgan’s work there is a sense in which, to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, the method is the message.” — Environments and Planning D: Society and Space

“Here is an extraordinary book: a beautifully designed and politically consequential geography of power. Vision from space goes far deeper here than merely one of contemplating the earth from above. In Close Up at a Distance, Laura Kurgan brings us forms of sight that range from the environmental eye to the optics of mass murder in Balkans; from postwar urban planning in Kuwait to the internal migration of inner-city residents to out-of-city prisons. If you want to see what politics through design can be, read this.” — Peter Galison, Joseph Pellegrino University Professor, Harvard University

Close Up at a Distance is an urgent call for an ethico-political project adequate to our age of global imaging technologies. Because new kinds of satellite representations determine how we know the world, we must free ourselves from authoritarian — purportedly objective — interpretations of these images and, understanding how they are produced and used, assume responsibility for critical interpretations and uses. Artfully, Kurgan shows us how. Her nine mapping projects use satellite technologies to create alternative images or to divert existing ones from their official, commercial, and military functions. This book brilliantly theorizes and demonstrates the democratic importance of technological literacy.” — Rosalyn Deutsche, author of Hiroshima after Iraq: Three Studies in Art and War

Close Up at a Distance is both a contemporary history of the use of geographic images for advocacy and analysis, and a sophisticated critique of the aesthetic, technical, and political decisions that underlie them. Kurgan is rightly known for maps that help us see social issues in a new light, but this book establishes her as one of the key thinkers about images, influence, and power.” — Ethan Zuckerman, Director, Center for Civic Media, MIT

“Situated between art, architecture, and geography, Kurgan illustrates that actual research through practice can be as radically critical as it is projective.” — Constructs

“When it comes to drones and satellites, technological innovation has outpaced our ability to consider its implications. Expertly and thoughtfully, Kurgan works to close that gap.” — Dan Gettinger, Study for the Center of the Drone