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What's Hiding Under Those Goofy Geometric Patterns?

The Dutch government's strange strategy for blurring out sensitive sites on Google maps.

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Courtesy: Mishka Henner

The freedom promised by the scrollable world of Google Earth, like most everything else, has its limits. A satellite’s gaze is anything but objective; on the contrary, its biases are frequent and pronounced, as Mishka Henner’s “Dutch Landscapes” makes clear. When Google launched its free satellite-imagery service in 2005, governments scrambled to censor protected regions and domains considered too sensitive for public consumption. Naturally, reasons of national defense were stated, and the sanctioned landscapes were hidden under a cloak of visual tricks that included distortions of every kind, from pixelations and blurring to cloning and burning. Interestingly enough, the filters differed from country to country just as the objects of censorship varied from military bases and nuclear facilities to royal palaces and cultural centers.

“Landscapes” collects the bizarre instances of cartographic dissonance inflicted by the Dutch government over their virtual lands. As Henner notes, the number of censored sites within the small country of the Netherlands is surprising, as is the technique used by officials to disguise them. Tracts of land deemed vulnerable to attack or misappropriation are transformed into large tapestries of multi-colored polygons, archipelagos of abstraction floating in swaths of open fields, dense forests, and clusters of urban development.

Henner contextualizes these hybrid landscapes as the digital extension of the country’s historical (and agricultural) growth and expansion. Just as the Dutch have repeatedly engineered the soil of their native land to sustain and protect its future against the combined destructive  forces of natural disasters and industry, so the hybridization of “Google-Netherlands” grafts vague geometries onto public satellite imagery to safeguard the land from the imagined threat of  terrorism.


This post originally appeared on Architizer, an Atlantic partner site.

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