In the race to see which high-tech super-company is the creepiest and most Orwellian, Google has recently pulled far ahead of the rest of the pack. Its various tools, from Google Maps to Gmail to Google+, have become so powerful and indispensable that they are literally everywhere you look. The company's mission statement is quite simple — “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful” — but it's also frighteningly comprehensive. Is there any area of our lives now that is free from Google's touch?
Artist Chadwick Gibson has found a unique way to deal with the quagmire of Google domination. In a solo show titled “Googlegeist: Mirrors Behind the Curtain,” now on view at Smart Objects, a new art space in Echo Park that Gibson also founded, the artist presents a series of images extracted from Google Art Project. That app functions like a Google Street View for museums, letting users look at works of art and virtually wander down the halls of museums all over the world. The images presented in Gibson's show all have one thing in common: in them, one can see the Google photographer and/or his nine-eyed street view camera reflected in the museum's mirrors.
“Google likes to wipe out its own presence, and normally there is an algorithm in place that automatically blurs faces and license plates from the Google Street View images,” Gibson explained. “But the algorithm doesn't work inside of a museum because paintings have faces in them, which throws everything off. So the self-censoring has to be done by hand, and with all of the millions of images to be managed, Google can't always get to every one in a timely fashion.”
This leaves artists like Gibson with a treasure trove of untouched bloopers to mine. In the seven images included in his show, the opulence and perfect symmetry of various museums is on display, but they are disturbingly interrupted by the presence of grubbily dressed guys and their hulking camera equipment. In my favorite image from the series, taken at the Palace of Fontainebleu, the photographer's head disappears into his equipment, making it seem as if he and the camera are one, while a beautiful chandelier sparkles overhead. Vermeer couldn't have come up with a more arresting still life.
Google may be omnipresent, but here in these images, it is made to confront, reveal and reflect back on itself in an endless hall of mirrors. As a crowning touch, Gibson paid to have his exhibition and the interior of the gallery photographed for inclusion in Google Business View. When I visited, Gibson got on his computer and gleefully called up the Business View images, which offered beautiful views of the show along with a couple of blurry captures of Gibson himself. In one of the more “meta” experiences I've had lately, Gibson and I stood in the gallery and peered at images of Gibson and the gallery on Google.
“I believe that Google's founders have good intentions,” Gibson mused. “But you have to admit, the architecture they have set up is basically Big Brother's dream come true.”
“Googlegeist: Mirrors Behind the Curtain” is on view through Feb. 18 at Smart Objects, 1828 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park, (213) 840-9861. More images and additional details from this project can be viewed on Gibson's Googlegeist tumblr.
Carol Cheh blogs about L.A.'s performance art scene at Another Righteous Transfer! Follow her on Twitter at @righteoustrans. For more arts news follow us on Twitter at @LAWeeklyArts and like us on Facebook.