Art That Exposes Weird Glitches In Google Maps

See what happens when the Google Maps algorithm auto-updates its satellite images.

The cartography world has likely seen more changes in the past decade than ever before, thanks to Google Maps. The era of using cumbersome printed maps that crowd the passenger seat, or robotic GPS systems to navigate a road trip has passed. Now, everything occurs through an app. That kind of app-focused tunnel vision has altered our understanding of surrounding landscapes. Odds are, we all implicitly trust the maps in our phone more than other logistical cues.


Which explains why Daniel Schwarz’s Juxtapose series delivers a small jolt of surprise. The Berlin-based artist went all the way around the world (virtually) and found several instances of fault lines in Google’s images of Earth’s surface. In each one, satellite images from different points in time and different weather conditions are stitched together, creating a confusing Land of Narnia-like effect: A thin line separates two places on Earth, where it’s arid and dry on one side and a snowy tundra on the other.

“The complexity of nature cannot be simplified and abstracted into an artificial and digital system,” Schwarz tells Co.Design. It’s powerful “to see these natural transformations manifested as artifacts in the Google interface.” These transformations happen when Google updates its maps, and sources images for a given location from various periods in time. It happens automatically, on a grid, without the benefit of a consistently discerning human eye. Schwarz found the first glitch while looking at landscapes away from urban sites. From there, his interest took off. Finding the rest of the images was a “very fluent, obsessive, and fast process,” he says, that lasted about a week.

The project also quietly nods to the ways in which human behavior impact the environment. There’s no screaming environmental agenda at play, but the project is a reminder of how much we participate with our surroundings first through a cyber layer, then in real time. These layers can be fickle. Case in point: Even these landscape snafus might have disappeared by now. “Due to their source and its constant flow of actualizations, the chosen glitches are potentially nonexistent, and replaced by more recent photos.”

See more of Schwarz’s work here.


About the author

Margaret Rhodes is a former associate editor for Fast Company magazine.