For the ECONOMIST: JENNY ODELL, a San Franciscan artist, often finds inspiration in the landscapes she sees while flying overhead. If she spots a promising piece of Earth from a plane, she scours the relevant parts of Google Maps to investigate further. What she is looking for are odd, often industrial, forms and shapes—water-treatment facilities, swimming pools, railway yards, shipping containers and the like—whose images she can use in her digital prints. (Her work has been displayed at the Google Maps headquarters in Mountain View, California.)
Ms Odell’s latest exhibition, “Infrastructure“, currently showing at San Francisco’s Intersection for the Arts, examines the structures, networks and mechanisms necessary for supplying transport, commerce, power, utilities and drinking water. Among her inspirations are Mark Lombardi’s “Global Networks” graph drawings and Chris Burden’s “Metropolis II“, a more recent “kinetic” art project using toy cars.
The exhibition combines her research into infrastructure with careful attention to layout and palette. So the striking blue-and-green hues of swimming pools and water-treatment plants complement red-and-orange shipping containers. The images tend to be quite small and are assembled as miniaturist collages. In many ways, Ms Odell’s work feels like a fusion of contemporary art, technology and painstaking cut-and-paste. It’s possible to look at it and react to the design and colours without knowing exactly what the images are. From a distance, it’s not always clear that you’re looking at airports, cargo ships or agricultural machinery.
Ms Odell says it’s not her intention to confuse viewers or hide what’s actually in the images. “To me, mapping and miniaturisation have in common the attempt to understand, or render understandable, a system that might otherwise sprawl beyond comprehension,” she says.
But she also understands that her art can be visually compelling without necessarily inspiring viewers to think about the world of infrastructure. “The idea that people live with my pieces in their homes makes me incredibly happy,” she says. “It seems that the people who buy it appreciate the idea of something beautiful composed from unexpected material.”
“There’s a very strange thing that happens when I’ve been working on these pieces for a long time in my bedroom, which incidentally gets no sunlight, and then I go out into the world,” Ms Odell said. “Bizarre cell phone towers, electrical substations, trash compactors, construction workers making a hole in the road that exposes all of the tubes and pipes that have always been below us are suddenly visible to me, as if out of nowhere. I want to re-create this moment of discovery for the viewer.”
“Infrastructure” is at the Intersection for the Arts, San Francisco, until March 29th 2014. In April the work will be shown at SPACE Gallery in Portland, Maine and at the NY Media Center in New York. In the summer it will appear at the Futur en Seine festival at the Gaite Lyrique in Paris.
Image courtesy of San Francisco’s Intersection of the Arts