Playing with Google: Street View Performance and Installation Artists

In a recent post, I drew a distinction between two groups of artists that use Google Street View as part of their creative work:

1) Scavengers who treat the mapping service as a colossal mechanized digital photographer and

2) Performance and Installation artists who aim to have their work recorded by a passing Street View camera and see their piece included in the public Street View image stream.

While scavengers work primarily at a computer terminal in their office or studio, scouring through the photographs provided by the Street View machinery, performance and installation artists need to interact directly with the Street View scanning devices at specific locations and times in order to accomplish their creative projects. In doing so, Street View performance and installation artists face at least two major obstacles:

a) How to know when the Google Street View camera will pass by the location of their work and

b) How to circumvent (or incorporate) Google’s automated face blurring technology which blurs the faces of people, together with vehicle license plates caught in the shot.

Google publishes a Street View schedule that announces when areas and neighborhoods will be visited by their camera cars, but the information is very general, making it impossible to predict any of the actual routes and times. As a result, many performance artists play a waiting game, settling down for a long wait in beach chairs along the expected route of the camera car.

The two men in diving suits in Bergen, Norway, for example, or the guy wearing a horse head in British Columbia (both shown in the gallery below) look like they have been sitting patiently curbside for some time before the Google Street View car finally came by. Google employees in London (also in the gallery below) did know exactly when the Street View car was scheduled to pass by their offices and turned out for a large group picture to be included in Street View.

Street View applies a blurring filter to human faces and license plates to protect people’s privacy. This filter can be circumvented by wearing certain kinds of masks, like the Japanese group with the bird heads. Wearing a horse head or a diving suit (actually just the diving mask should do) accomplishes the same goal.

In an amusing malfunction, Google’s privacy software overshot its goal when it blurred the facial features of a grazing cow in England. A screenshot of the first privacy protected bovine in media history is included in our selection below.

But there is always more to discover on Street View. For instance, hidden within the regular Street View imagery of a pleasant looking Connecticut neighborhood, two neighbors can be seen enacting their favorite Wilhelm Tell scene, one of them carefully aiming an arrow at an apple on their neighbors head. Unfortunately, the Google car had moved on before the end of the scene could be witnessed.

Installation oriented approaches to Street View include a corn maze that can be navigated using Google Street View or a large outdoor sculpture consisting of hundreds of scarecrows in a field in Northern Finland. Called “The Silent People,” the installation is the work of artist Reijo Kela.

One of the earliest examples of a staged combination of Street View photography with live performance was choreographed by artist Ben Kinsley on Sampsonia Way, in a historical Pittsburgh district, in 2008. The event included a marching band and colour guard, all captured by Google’s Street View cameras.

Finally, one of our all time favorites, we have included the outdoor painter and onlookers in London’s Kensington Gardens–wow, outdoor painting, what an idea 😉

GSV Performance Artists

PS: Google periodically updates its Street View images. As a result, the Street View URL’s offered in the post may no longer show the performances or installations mentioned. For example, the two men in scuba gear in Norway are no longer visible in the current version of Street View. However, the can still be seen in Google’s historical coverage of the location recorded in 2009.

9 thoughts on “Playing with Google: Street View Performance and Installation Artists”

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