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Digital art meets poetry in this Google Maps mash-up

Award-winning poet Martin Jackson teams up with Factory Floor video artist Dan Tombs for a critique of the tech behemoth

Resident in Maps is the title of British poet, Martin Jackson’s latest project – an exploration of the social and poetic implications of Google Maps, the multi-billion dollar global organisation’s behemoth project to digitally render the surface of the world. 

In principle, Maps is a great tool. It means you can checkout new places and hopefully not get lost when meeting people. However, it’s also driven by profit – something Jackson, who is now based in Berlin and has previously won the prestigious Eric Gregory award for poetry, is trying to challenge. 

Teaming up with video artist, Dan Tombs, who has also worked with bands such as Factory Floor, Jon Hopkins and East India Youth, they’ve created the first of a series of video that combine Jackson’s poetry with Tombs’ strange digital video art, which Dazed is proudly premiering today. Speaking from London and the German capital, the two artists explained more.

Dazed Digital: So in your own words, Martin, what's Resident in Maps about? 

Martin Jackson: It’s a writer’s residency where I’m investigating Google Maps and using my research to write something that explains what it does. That’s one part of it. The other part is to prompt people to engage with their online presence. People treat Google Maps as an objective source of information, whereas in fact, it’s monetised and driven by capital, which effects how it’s presented. This year, they even introduced adverts. 

DD: Dan, how did you approach making the video?

Dan Tombs: Coming up with something visual that works with written words was hard, but I’m pleased with what we’ve achieved. My background as an artist is that I’m interested in how objects deconstruct themselves, so that’s what I tried to do here, with the glitch Martin found in Google Maps, this guy we’ve called ‘Alan’ who’s the subject of this video. 

DD: So who is ‘Alan’ and how did you find him?

Martin Jackson: He's this eerie figure who keeps popping up in the images of Gatwick airport on Google Maps. Technically you shouldn't be able to see him, because his face should be blurred, but there are about 20 or 30 unblurred images of him walking about the airport and he’s the only person I’ve seen during my 5,000 hours wandering around Google Maps that you can follow for more than one image. It’s strange. I’ve learnt things about him by studying his photos, like I know he’s married and likes bananas and doing the crossword. I even know who he works for, it’s just a great poetic subject.

DD: Has Google been in touch with you about the project? 

Martin Jackson: Someone from the company's advertising arm contacted me about it recently, asking if I would be interested in working with them and I turned them down, I just wouldn’t be able to critique them if I was on their payroll.

Watch Resident in Maps below: