Sunday, December 6, 2009

Meta: Map -> Target

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend much of the conference due to various things such as classes and radio shows. I did make it for two sessions though: Lisa Parks and Trevor Paglan, and a very collaborative session on new archive/analysis procedures. Since my planned essay is essentially a critique of Parks, I'll comment on her presentation.

For those not present, I'll provide a brief summary. At the center of her lecture was the idea that, in a post-nuclear time, the world has been imagined as a target. Satellite images allow us to view the world from above, leaving the surface to gain a somewhat totalizing view. The satellite can obtain images from anywhere; the images obtained are transformed into targets, targets of things such as surveillance, destruction, or development (a quick note: it seemed in her speech as if these were *the* three possibilities for targeting, but from speaking with Parks afterwards, it seems as if she wants to leave this more open, that these three methods of targeting are only part of a realm of methods). When the U.S. military has released images from Iraq or Afganistan displaying the aftermath of a bombing, the arrows used to draw our attention, guide our interpretation are, in a way, the same arrows used to guide the bombs before the final image was taken.

Afterwards, I asked her a question: if the satellite image is produced in the creation of a target, what do we make of composites of these targets (such as Google Earth), where the user is suddenly left with a multiplicity of targets with no arrows to guide interpretation, a gaze from above that is no longer singular? Parks briefly responded by noting that the satellite image does not so much represent the creation of a target, merely the potential for a target. To translate a bit: Google Earth is not a composite of 'targets,' specifically, but rather an extension of a field of potentiality across the entire surface of the Earth. Any point, any image can become a target, but is not already one.

But there's still something in my question that remains unanswered: how does this potential become actualized? Or rather: what sort of function can we identify to map a potential to a target of force (or rather, to map targets of force over the field of potentials)? While Parks spoke of "reversing the target" to point back towards the viewers (think of Laura Mulvey's article on foregrounding the gaze of the camera and the audience), something that certainly works for appropriating military images (images that are already targets), the totalizing gaze of Google Earth (which cannot exclude, only distort) and metadata interface allowing users to bind together groups of locations based on an interpretative operation form a gap in Parks' lecture, something assumed but not explored. The way in which targets can be generated by the creation of groups of metadata, which must be discovered before they can add arrows and markers to the Earth, and may be generated by anyone and are all presented equivalently, complicates (but does not necessarily negates) Parks' target reversal. Because Google Earth sells itself on completeness (you can locate all of your old houses in the images, even take a look at "empty" spaces of ocean), the effects of this overwhelming field escapes the control of the military and governments, despite their ability to persuade Google to distort sections of the map, creating new methods of actualization and counter-actualization. This is something I think Parks provided a framework for but perhaps did not explore: borrowing from her lecture, specifically her analysis of military satellite photos released to the public, we may say the target is not created by the image, but rather by the metadata, the arrows guiding interpretation. What is interesting about reaching this point in this fashion is that it is no longer just the military who creates targets; the creation of targets is very much the "actualization of the map" de Certaeu speaks of, the method through which we may identify locations to physically (or intellectually) interact with (or rather, act on as they act on us). I will begin to address these issues in my final essay. Look for the proposal Wednesday.

On another note, I feel like people have already accomplished significant feats of target reversal. One example: Chris Csikszentmihályi spoke of a project where deaths in Baghdad during the occupation were mapped onto Boston, where the artist moved about wearing a backpack containing a computer comparing locations, spewing out leaflets in memorial of those civilians killed collateral to the war when her location matched the location of a death. Without reading the pamphets, I can't testify to the ability of the work to affect a broad spectrum of civilians implicated in the project, but the idea itself is a very moving use of (reverse?) mapping, the confusion of center and periphery.

No comments: