Sean’s Gooog


This is the catalogue essay Sean Payne wrote for my current exhibition Gooog, which is showing at Tacit Contemporary Art. Design by Daniel Neville.


The word-fragment ‘Gooog’ stamps Greg Neville’s works derived from the virtual globe as emblems of their time. It appears in several of his pictures, a found palindrome, the number of vowels determined by the size of the segment he clips, duplicates and mirrors from the world-sized image in which it originally appeared.

 He is one of many contemporary artists whose primary material is Google Earth, an internet-based snapshot of geological, sociological, and architectural time; a matrix of images stitched to make a virtual world.

 He treats the images as found objects, stitching them together, upending the usual orientations around a central point. The repetition of the technique is another step in Neville’s long-held interest in found images and in automatic processes of generating imagery, whose outcome is only partly directed or predictable.

 The matrix irresistibly evokes Persian carpets, and like a magic carpet, we use it to fly above the world through a virtual sky. Looking down, human concerns blur into abstraction, another detail in the landscape.

 Roads carry associations in our culture with the promise of the future, the sense that things might be better somewhere else. But Neville’s roads lead nowhere, in endless loops, ironically denying the possibility of progress. In conversation, he links this with information decay, of things running down, energy distributed toward a state of equilibrium, entropy. When applied to human endeavours, as it is here, the image is terrifying.

 From the ground, towers thrust, but reversing the viewpoint strips them of their value as propaganda. The view from above diminishes all it surveys. The satellite is an eye without discrimination, pitiless. Even the turgid aspirations of billionaires to claim possession of the sky, like frontier real estate, are reduced to Babel-like hubris; they are futile, flaccid. ‘In Praise of Folly’ might be this exhibition’s subtitle. In this, Neville’s work reveals kinship with Andreas Gursky, an artist similarly inclined to view human concerns from a distance, subject to forces beyond our control.

 The digital artefacts heightened by the artist emphasise a reading of the world as image, an incomplete one. The best maps, even global positioning systems, describe the landscape imperfectly, as words describe the phenomenal world, with uncertainty. The image breaks when looked at closely enough. The disruptions technically indicate a failure of resolution. In a digital image, this has associations of clarity or sharpness, and when applied to human intentionality, it has the positive echo of resolve. But the double meaning is sourly ironic here. There might be resolve, but the insufficient resolution of the image shows the cracks where reality is imperfectly rendered.

 In the light of recent revelations of domestic surveillance programs of unimaginable size and breadth, the notion that we are all being recorded from the sky feels more sinister than it once did. Lethal use of drones is now frequently reported, and the corporations that make them advertise their photographic and media potential. Certainly, there is a malevolent background frequency to Neville’s often-beautiful images that we can detect when listening hard enough. There is less distinction now between the lens and the gun than ever.

 Sean Payne, Deakin University




Here is the invitation to my new exhibition Gooog opening on Wednesday at Tacit gallery, 312 Johnston St Abbotsford.

The work is derived from Google Earth images of highways and cities. This is the statement I sent the gallery:

Google Earth is a vast mapping and surveillance project. When combined with Google Street View, it is the most ambitious photography project in history.

This exhibition is part of my ongoing exploration of the limits of photographic representation. What interests me is not how Google Earth renders the planet’s surface accurately but how it abstracts it.

Through a simple mirroring process, the endless twisting and looping highways that criss-cross the planet become beautiful decorative designs, like tapestries or Persian carpets.

In a related project, Google’s overhead viewpoint renders some of the world’s tallest buildings as toylike, their immense structures consumed in a pattern of crystalline pixels.




Greg Neville, GoooOg, 2012

The Stockroom gallery in Kyneton is holding an end of year show called Span, artists exploring connection, distance and the passage of time.

This image is one of two I’m putting in the show, from a new series derived from Google Earth satellite views of various cities. The images show highways endlessly looping in decorative patterns, a tapestry of roads, parks and suburbs.

Regional Victoria is not exactly blessed with private art galleries. Most of them show various degenerate forms of craft, what I called the ‘Artesque’, painting or sculpture that looks like art but is really kitsch. The Stockroom is one exception to this rule, its three spaces show work that might be seen in ‘serious’ galleries and project spaces in Melbourne.



Google art

The biggest photographic endeavour in the world today must be Google Earth, an attempt to photograph the entire surface of the planet down to every street and house. As a resource of photographic images it is immense, an archive of the physical world that Borges might have dreamt up. This megalomaniac project is upsetting a lot of people as it intrudes further and further into our private realm. We might feel our privacy is threatened, but we can threaten other peoples’ privacy whenever we want, just by looking. The images are free, and freely accessible, a mark of the populist, democratic world we have created.

Google Earth is an opportunity for creativity. Perhaps it’s not creativity of a high order, but you can make images of your own just by searching. Sometimes it’s a matter of sifting for images, and sometimes it’s a technical glitch that produces one. You could think of it as a new art medium, but that might be going too far.


A momentary delay in Google Earth transferring from satellite view to street view reveals strange worlds the software engineers never intended.