Jon Rafman’s 9-Eyes of Google Street View images, which have practically been canonized by now (as well as thoroughly-spread online) are so enamoring because they successfully walk the line between traditional distinctions of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture. Google Street View is hardly considered a cultural commodity. It’s more of a utility or even novelty. For the sake of this argument, it matters very little whether the user of the service is a contractor surveying a build site or a kid searching for his own house: the common purpose is not necessarily artistic.
In elevating the GSV image (and, more importantly, the medium of ‘screenshot’) to high art, both in terms of exhibition space and price tag, Rafman’s concept ends up being more important as a gesture than an aesthetic product (at least in theory). Where this starts to get complicated is that the images are really beautiful, the prints even moreso– massive gonzo images at 40x64” on artisan rag paper fixed to aluminum. You get the idea. The images are ethereal and dreamy, the schizophrenic and apocalyptic melting mind-glitches of a robotic eye, equal-parts Ridley Scott and Tarkovsky. The fixed-focal length of the camera situates every GSV image objectively as a standing viewpoint roughly the height of an average adult.
As a result, the snapshots take on both the aesthetic and direct visual perspective of memory. All this has been said before; more important than what the images look like is how relevant they remain three years later. Rafman spent thousands of hours trawling the virtual globe for these snapshots. One would imagine that for him the memories and the images themselves become indistinguishable at a certain point. Immerse yourself in the digital abyss for long enough and it becomes real.
8 Rue Valette, Pompertuzat, Midi- Pyrenees, France, 2011 (2011 now practically the proverbial stone age of digital art) is a solid example of why these images are so effective and why they are likely some of the most poignant post-internet art images yet created. The digital art world has had three years to try and accomplish something more all-encompassing and there don’t seem to be any outstanding examples of this occurring.
In 2010, Artie Vierkant wrote in his influential post-internet aesthetic manifesto, “...the nature of mass media is now profoundly different, in that we are both its subject and the engine behind it.” Post-internet art is not that created ‘after’ the internet but instead art that doesn’t deny the fact that the ‘real’ and the ‘digital’ have become intertwined; our work is inevitably a product of our web activity whether we like it or not.
Nine Eyes reminds me time and time again that the elevation of the digital realm into ‘art’, however we choose to define it, combined with the unavoidable immersion of life within technology, allows the distinction between life and art to be more blurred than ever. More fascinating is that the technologies enabling this intertwining of art and life also enable surveillance, paranoia and cultural-industrial objectification of individuals. Rafman’s project puts the digital observer in the shoes of both the cyborg and the demigod. It’s as spontaneous and exciting as it is confusing and troubling, these emotions perhaps being the default moods of my digital generation.