Italian-born street artist Paolo Cirio
is well known for his clever albeit sometime illegal creative practice, and his new project is no break from this tradition. Street Ghosts
saw him take to the streets of London, Berlin and New York with life-sized reproductions of images of people captured by the Google Maps Street View vehicles
. Cirio wheatpaste these photos back into the urban environments where they were (often unknowingly) immortalised on the popular mapping tool.
This work combines so many things I am interested in! Maps, geolocation, street-art, copyright, the relationship between digital and ‘real’ environments and actions, urbanism and urban studies. What I particularly love is the paradox it presents. To borrow from Cirio’s artist statement (which I highly recommend reading):
As the publicly accessible pictures are of individuals taken without their permission, I reversed the act: I took the pictures of individuals without Google’s permission and posted them on public walls. In doing so, I highlight the viability of this sort of medium as an artistic material ready to comment and shake our society…
The obscure figures fixed to the walls are the murky intersection of two overlain worlds: the real world of things and people, from which these images were originally captured, and the virtual afterlife of data and copyrights, from which the images were retaken.
These people were captured in a moment that should have been temporary; their bodies time and date stamped onto the urban landscape for much longer than that moment should have lasted. Their often mundane activity—walking to work, heading out for the night, sitting and observing the street—has been imbued with a much longer permanency and stripped almost entirely of context. Cirio is watermarking those bodies to the coordinates at which they were photographed. He is inserting back into the urban environment an echo of a moment in time that has passed, creating from a pseudo public (but actually privately owned) augmented, geo-spatial repository of images a temporary portrait of street life as it was in the (often very recent) past.
But his choice of medium is as much a part of the project as well. Because he is using a well-used street art practice to apply these photographs to their coordinates, the images are susceptible to the same variables that other street art is. Visual content in public places compete for visibility with other content, lasting only as long as they are not covered up or removed. So these echos, unlike their Google Maps equivalent, are much more susceptible to time. Like most street-art, the time at which they will be a part of the streetscape is limited.
Cirio has worked on numerous awesome projects including Face to Facebook where he scraped 1 million Facebook profiles and arranged them by facial expression on a custom-built dating website and Google Will Eat Itself which he developed with Alessandro Ludovico of Neural Magazine (who I had the fortune to hit the road with back in 2007 during the Australian Network for Art and Technology‘s still/open Emerging Technology Lab), a project which, put simply, “uses automated clicking programs to generate Adsense revenue, which is used to purchase Google stock”.∗