The Satellite is a realtime, experiential, and hyper-realistic portrait of Earth, using live data from hundreds of satellites to allow the public a direct encounter with the planet. Entering a communal viewing space, participants look out upon an expansive, intimate vision of their world.
The “Blue Marble” photograph, captured by a NASA astronaut in 1972, is still the image of Earth that dominates our collective consciousness. Astronauts report a deep shift that occurs upon seeing their planet from space—labeled the “overview effect”—and seek to communicate the power of this heightened perspective to the public with photography. However, their perspective of the planet is highly subjective, limited by their personal perceptual abilities, and singular vantage point; as well as the representational entanglements and technical constraints of photography as a medium.
Winer/Karwas originally conceived of the project as part of their wider effort to identify and address gaps in environmental perception. When they came across a series of visual feeds from satellites, it was immediately evident that the data being collected could offer a highly relevant, yet largely unseen, view of the planet.
Each moment, hundreds of satellites are circling the globe, delivering rich, detailed information. They offer science, government, and industry a new look at our planet that goes far beyond the understanding afforded by the individual. These datasets are cryptic, complex, and unwieldy—impenetrable to the general public. The Satellite is an intervention in public perception, an attempt to subvert these constraints by transfiguring the data streams into an instinctive encounter. Visits to the viewing chamber will take on a ritual dynamic, allowing participants to witness change firsthand, and to contemplate the unseen realities of the planet.
The Satellite is a reassessment and opening up of the potential of empirical data, to produce a direct, physical, and accessible experience of the planet as a living entity. Central to our tradition is a fascination with future landscapes: dreams of utopia, fueling a march toward comfort and bliss. The Hudson River School revealed an unseen Earth of their own in their imaginings of the American west. Today, with the widening and advancement of mechanized perception, new frontiers are coming into sharp focus. The space industry is becoming privatized and promoted; probes are seeking new interstellar worlds to settle. Artists are producing work that connect us to these new terrains. Thomas Ruff’s images package Mars as a tangible frontier, and James Turrell’s skyspaces help us to register our cosmic context.
By contrast, The Satellite is a mirror, an attempt at self-portraiture through landscape, to look back at ourselves in the historical moment. In this tradition of self-reflection, Agnes Denes’ Wheatfield, from 1982, questioned the heedless sky-seeking of contemporary cities. The Satellite encourages us to question the idea of the “known” world, exposing Earth as terra incognita. This inversion is informed by Duchamp’s long-durational work, Etant Donnés, and Kiesler/Bartos’ Shrine of the Book, in which mechanisms of architecture are used to transport the participant between perceptual realities. In contrast to Duchamp’s solitary gaze or the nostalgia of the Shrine, The Satellite demands collective introspection in the present.
Working with open data feeds and simulated physics, the first phase of the project is currently focused on creating realistic, realtime visuals of terrestrial phenomena: land color, cloud volumes, ice cover, lighting strikes, and aurorae. These techniques are being continuously refined through photographic research, consultations with astronauts, and feedback from audiences. Industrial techniques in projection and architectural installation are being used to frame the visual, to give realism, physicality, and social context to the encounter. The project is shaped by process, with installation studies, print experiments, and intermittent exhibitions as drivers of its ultimate incarnation. Exhibitions of the first of these process pieces is planned for the summer of 2015.
In providing broad, global access to this transformative piece, The Satellite will generate millions of subjective experiences of a shared reality: A place to weigh our stellar origins and our cosmic future, and the role this planet plays in that story.