A Visualisation of the Anthropocene Era through Satellite Images

Using a cartographic practice that generates a new atlas from Google Earth, Marcela Magno’s series, Land displays evidence of how the planet has changed.

© Marcela Magno, 30°21'N | 101° 5’O, from the series, Land 

Have human beings permanently changed the planet? Argentinian artist Marcela Magno answers this seemingly simple question, capturing Google Earth satellite images to create landscapes that are fascinating and disquieting at the same time. She selects territories where human impact has a significant consequence on the environment and ecosystems, focusing on oil plants and other raw material extraction sites. “Each map is the result of a geographical, geopolitical, historical and aesthetic research process,” Magno said in an interview with PHM.

In 2012, she started Land, a series exploring Patagonia’s forests and landscapes. Since its debut, the work has expanded to include the whole of South America, China, US, Saudi Arabia and beyond, as the terrains have shifted and evolved, broadening her research. “I soon understood that my work has a more extended geopolitical meaning because the economy of resources is, by its definition, global,” the artist said.

© Marcela Magno, 32°23' N | 102°26'O, from the series, Land

Gold and silver mines, oil plants, intensive farming fields and nuclear test sites are the focus of the project. Seen from above, they evoke fractal structures, constellations, human nervous systems and other geometric patterns as if nature had designed them. The illusory, spontaneous beauty of the Land series appears to be a representation of the Anthropocene era. As science has proven, we now have an unquestionable impact on the environment on a global scale, so much so that a new geological epoch has begun.

As science has proven mankind has caused mass extinctions of plant and animal species, altered the atmosphere, and polluted the oceans, among other lasting impacts. We’re the first species to have a planet-wide influence and we are aware of this reality. Magno focuses on a small but relevant part of this change and chooses specific locations around the world to convey her artistic intent. “I named the images by their spatial dimension, using the coordinates that function as scientific names in a universal geometric language,” she said.

© Marcela Magno, 23°33'54.54"S | 68°23'50.59"O, from the series, Land

Each image is generated by nearly 200 screen-shots grabbed from Google Earth, resulting in a large-scale print. “It’s a practice that is more similar to painting and drawing - the assembly is manual and the process could take up to a month,” Magno said. The internet is today a laboratory for the most innovative photographic experiments. Given the abundance of pre-existing visual material in our hyper-documented world, it’s unsurprising that there is an increasing amount of photographic art that begins with someone else’s pictures. If digital culture has transformed photographic practice, it has had no less a profound impact on how found imagery is sought and then manipulated.

Marcela Magno’s work has the power to show what’s hidden from the human visual sphere using a simple digital tool. Through a contemporary cartographic exercise, Land aims to generate new questions about the responsible role humans have in the ecosystem, and how we shape the world in our own measure.

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Marcela Magno is an Argentine artist currently working on contemporary cartography. Her research focuses on investigating the shape we give the world as a geopolitical board game.

Irene Opezzo is an Italian Photo Editor based in Los Angeles. She has been employed at several newspaper and magazines in the US and Italy, such as Vice News, Vogue and La Stampa. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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