No one has ever driven by a nuclear cooling tower, nudged their loved one, and paused to bask in the aesthetic moment. Just as no one has ever driven the family to a garbage dump for a photo op.
But these are the features of our urban landscapes that delight artist Jenny Odell as she scans Google Satellite View, pasting mundane, sometimes repulsive objects into massive mosaics. Each of her pieces in Satellite Collections consists of single categories—swimming pools, baseball parks, docked cargo ships—snipped over and over again from locations across the world, curated into collages of architectural similarities.
"Making them was a way of discovering the alien and endlessly curious within what we consider to be familiar environments," Odell tells Co.Design. "People sometimes think, when they see 77 Waste and Salt Ponds from far away, that it’s a collection of precious stones, only to find out that they are chemical waste ponds found near landfills."
The effect is an abstraction of the familiar, a cross between staring into clouds and reading the same word over and over again until its phonemes overshadow meaning. Each piece is whimsical and entertaining—looking at the work is pure fun—but they also offer an opportunity to look at something anew, without being limited by its context.
"It’s my belief that seeing things out of context allows us to see some dimension of truth that is not possible any other way," Odell explains. "On top of that, I would hope that seeing new aspects of seemingly familiar things would have the effect of opening things up—that is, if you realize the bizarreness and the specificity of our world as it is now (the strangeness of swimming pools, of nuclear power plants, etc.), you also realize the field of possibilities in which those things exist."
It’s true—in showing us just how ridiculous the patterns that construct our world can be, it’s easy to start seeing each individual element in a new light. From Google’s bird’s-eye view, at least.