Mar 18, 2014

Looking At Cities with Jenny Odell

by: Todd Bressi

What does an artist whose work consists primarily of collaging images that she culls from the Internet have to do with muralmaking, or community-based art practice?

A lot, as it turns out.

Jenny Odell, who is based in San Francisco, uses the virtual world as a lens for looking at the physical world.

We call her lecture “Looking at Cities” because her work offers a new approach to the basic but profound task of making observations about the world around us based on what we see.

Odell will scour Google Earth for instances of an urban archetype, such as a sports stadium, excerpt them and collage them into an ersatz collection. She will take satellite views of places like parks and prisons, and edit out everything but the traces of people, leaving us to wonder about the interaction between people, landscape and urban form.

Like murals, her collages offer composed and hybrid views, relying an artist’s point of view to mediate the (already mediated) satellite views and street views that we commonly draw on to provide us with a visual portrait of the world. Like Mural Arts’ socially engaged work, her projects offer vivid commentaries on politics of urbanization and the ethics of visual representation.

For example, Odell’s project, Power Trip, was inspired by her investigation, via Google Earth, of the networks of infrastructure that provide power to San Francisco. After she traced the route of the power grid on satellite imagery, she decided to follow the same route in a car, and became deeply aware of the impact that infrastructure like this has on the landscapes and communities, far from the city, that it passes through.

This is the type of discovery that is at the heart of great political murals, from Diego Rivera’s frescos about labor and manufacturing, to Charles Sheller’s paintings of American life after World War I, to the countless WPA murals that chronicled the industrialization of America. And it remains a narrative about communities, natural resources, environment and work that is vital to our urban future.

We hope you will join us 6 pm Monday, March 24, at Moore College’s Stewart Auditorium, where Mural Arts Philadelphia, muraLAB and the Moore College of Art and Design will host Odell and a lecture about her work.

Please RSVP at

Last updated: Mar 18, 2016

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