In a review of Close Up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology, and Politics for Society & Space, Columba Peoples discusses Laura Kurgan’s critical geographic scholarship. Click here to learn more about the book. Click here to read the full review. An excerpt appears below.
“Close Up at Distance is consequently comprised of a series of practical ‘encounters’ and critical engagements by Kurgan with satellite images, mappings and their related information systems. These ‘projects’ include experiments with GPS (Global Positioning System) receivers as art installations in New York and Barcelona, and evaluations of the political uses of image mapping in and after the 1991 military intervention in Kuwait. Other projects reflect on the uses of overhead images to evidence atrocities and mass graves in Kosovo and to both police and memorialise Ground Zero in the aftermath of 9/11. The significance of colour in satellite images in denoting changes in Arctic landscapes and deforestation in Brazil, and practices of ‘data visualization’ in the depiction of cross-border flows of capital and patterns of incarceration are also the subjects of Kurgan’s art installations and exhibitions discussed in the volume.
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. Her ‘projects’ are the functional equivalents of standalone chapters. Each of them is situated within a broader approach that Kurgan labels as ‘para-empiricism’, whereby an image (and/or the associated data used to construct or contextualise it) is not left to ‘speak for itself’ but it is rather used to ‘offer a reflection on what can be done with it’ (page 34). In adopting this approach Kurgan seeks to challenge extant interpretations of satellite images.Her overall goal is to show that it is possible to ‘repurpose any image from its intended functions to new ones'”