Uncharted – Oslo architecture triennale

By looking at imagery metadata, interviews, meeting minutes of space treaties, and technological failures, Uncharted is an ongoing research inquiry into the rhetoric of the contemporary globe—and by what mechanisms it came to be.

Cartographic representation and geographic databases are used every day by millions of people to move across familiar environments, plan long-range trips, cross national borders, reach shores of unknown countries in hope of a better life, or scan oceanic seabeds for untapped resources. Once directly connected to a physical activity on the territory—often accomplished through a coordinated parade of military and state presence—, Earth surveying is now the result of the remote observation by a vast array of orbiting sensors.

Disconnected from the fate of our surroundings (and bound to an almost-eternal life out of the harsh conditions that constantly reshape the same ground they monitor), the global remote sensing apparatus is made of objects, facilities, and data owned by nation states and private corporations, and managed through an intricate network of ground stations. It conceals its different agendas under the smooth, colour-corrected surface of satellite imagery, embedded in the metadata of the global digital mosaic like a footnote to the wonders of the contemporary geographic omniscience—while delivering a profitable picture of a borderless world. On the screen where the geographic information is delivered and experienced, all that counts is a smooth navigation experience: we can go everywhere—and we belong anywhere—on the evenly accessible surface criss-crossed by GPS-calculated paths, where political and natural features are erased under the uniform roaming of a positioning dot.

Uncharted aims to map this secretive territory, in order to unfold the complexity behind the technologies and systems that are shaping the way in which we see and experience our world. The first outcome of this investigation is an interactive installation and a series of experimental visualisations produced for After Belonging, Oslo Architecture Triennale 2016. The infrastructure behind contemporary cartography has been enquired in three phases and correspondent case studies: Sensing, by visualising Landsat programme’s operations between 1972 and 2016; Processing, by looking at Svalbard Satellite Station and various features of satellite imagery at extreme latitudes; Rendering, by cutting a vertical section of Google Maps’ digital sky. The making-of and the design of this installation are presented here.

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Uncharted—Footnotes to the Atlas is an installation originally commissioned by the After Belonging Agency (Lluís Alexandre Casanovas Blanco, Ignacio González Galán, Carlos Mínguez Carrasco, Alejandra Navarrete Llopis, Marina Otero Verzier), curators of the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2016, as part of the “On Residence” exhibition at DOGA Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture (September 8th–November 27th, 2016).

Research and design: Folder (Marco Ferrari, Elisa Pasqual, Alessandro Busi, Aaron Gillett, Pietro Leoni, Francesca Lucchitta, Giovanni Pignoni, Mariasilvia Poltronieri) / Design and production: Folder and Gisto (Alessandro Mason) / Special thanks to Giovanni De Francesco.

Photos by Folder and Mattia Balsamini