David Thomas Smith's "Anthropocene"
Dublin-based artist David Thomas Smith’s new exhibition, "Anthropocene," is the toast of the Internet. By meticulously stitching together thousands of thumbnail-sized images of global hubs of commerce taken from Google Maps, Mr. Smith has created a series of stunning images, the patterns of which resemble those of antique Persian rugs.
Just how much has the face of the earth been changed by humanity? That is the question at the core of a fascinating new photographic exhibition by Dublin-based artist David Thomas Smith titled “Anthropocene.” This intriguing exhibition, currently being shown at the Copper House Gallery in Dublin, consists of a series of massive images -- each of which consists of thousands of digital thumbnails pulled from Google Maps and stitched together into patterns that resemble antique Persian rugs. The Internet is buzzing with discussion of this impressive exhibition, and it’s no wonder why – the beautiful patterns that Mr. Smith has created are simultaneously a pleasure to look at for their symmetry and brilliantly executed design, and also deeply thought-provoking for their complex social subject matter.
According to the official press release for the exhibition,
“Anthropocene itself reflects upon the complex structures that define centers of global capitalism, transforming the aerial landscapes of sites associated with industries such as oil, precious metals, and consumer culture… Questions of photographic and economic realities are further complicated through the formal use of patterns that have their origins in ancient civilizations, specifically the motifs used by Persian rug makers.”
Naturally, the essence of this exhibition is of particular interest to us here at Nazmiyal antique oriental rugs, where the beauty and cultural importance of traditional Persian rug making is of the utmost importance. Knowing that I needed to learn as much as I could about “Anthropocene” and the artist behind it, I reached out to David Thomas Smith himself to see if he would be interested in answering some questions. Much to my delight, the artist obliged. Below is the interview that I conducted with Mr. Smith this past weekend.
NAZMIYAL: What was your inspiration for this project? Why Persian rugs? Would you say that your personal ethics played an important role in its genesis?
SMITH: Conceptually, the project was influenced by the writings of Lev Manovich who said “if you want a particular image, chances are it is already exists”. Aesthetically, the initial influence came from Afghan war rugs, I really liked the idea of the rug being used as a document, and this in turn led me to the more decorative Persian motifs as a source of inspiration.
I’ve always had an interest in environmental, political and social issues but I don’t like to preach with my work. I’m more interested in generating discussion and dialogue so people can make up their own minds.
NAZMIYAL: How did you come to choose the specific places that you ended up using? Do they have something in common or represent something significant?
SMITH: Each place was chosen based on its social, economic or political importance in the world as well as its aesthetic value. Their global significance is the glue that binds them together; they’re all major organs within the world’s economy. They represent people’s ability to shape the world in any way they see fit.
NAZMIYAL: Do you have a tech background? Or was it just natural to use the Google images because of their level of quality?
SMITH: My background is in Documentary Photography so it’s not necessarily a traditional ‘tech’ background but like most people these days’ technology features heavily in my life.
The use of Google Maps (was an obvious candidate, the image quality is by far the best) came about because as Manovich said most things are already photographs. For me, a great deal of documentary photography is becoming more and more about the re-contextualization of the image. It’s about taking existing images and giving them new meaning. Although I still firmly believe in the importance of traditional photo-journalism.
NAZMIYAL: How long did it take for you to assemble each image? It looks as though a tremendous amount of work went into each individual piece.
SMITH: The time taken to construct each image varies, although most of them took weeks to assemble as they were all constructed by hand. First I would extract thousands and thousands of jpegs from Google Maps. Then I would reassemble them in Photoshop myself because both the computer I was working on and Photoshop couldn’t be relied upon to reconstruct the images faithfully.
One of the biggest images was 6 meters by 10 meters upon completion, now imagine a jigsaw that size where each piece is the size of the tip your thumb! That might give you an idea of the effort that went into constructing them.
NAZMIYAL: the people who see your work take one thing away from it, what would like that one thing to be?
SMITH: Ideally I’d like people to walk away with an idea of the immense power that humanity has over the world. We may be weak as individuals, but together we’re unstoppable.
“Anthropocene” is a unique artistic achievement that brilliantly combines elements of the ancient and the modern, of science and art, and of social responsibility and individual determinism. With this stunning exhibition, Mr. Smith has created something that is a pleasure to behold that is in fact much more than that: he has created something that implicitly asks us some very important questions about who we are – about what humanity’s role in the world has been, and, perhaps, what it ought to be. Regardless of one’s artistic or philosophical leanings, Mr. Smith’s exhibition is a must see. Those of us here at Nazmiyal look forward to following Mr. Smith’s artistic career, and we wish him the best of luck with his pursuits.
For more information about David Thomas Smith and “Anthropocene,” visit the Copper House Gallery’s webpage.