Loosii Ninjas on the making of their interactive Google Street View works.
Over the course of two years I’ve created an experimental film within the online territory of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. As a site-specific work, the Navy Yard is important because it’s one of the largest private/public spaces in New York never previously captured by the Google Street View Car. In 2017, I took a job as a print technician at a commercial facility within the Navy Yard’s gated walls. Earlier, I had been a freelance photographer, and Google Maps contractor — I was creating virtual tours for businesses under a program called “Business View”. Since working with virtual tour technology for 8 years prior, I had been thinking a lot about Street View as a form of cinema — the clunky click-through aesthetics make it challenging to imagine a stop-motion sequence, however, I realized if approached properly an animation could manifest itself. Thinking back to when I first started this project in 2020, it’s funny that it hadn’t occurred to me that I was in virtually uncharted territory — meaning, the Street View car had never been inside the Navy Yard. When I set out to make my first trajectory following Google’s guidelines, I coincidentally chose the area of the Navy Yard because it was an open space without Google’s signature “blue line” representing a path created by its camera-strapped vehicle. It’s important to note that even Google’s guidelines for creating a “blue line” reference cinema — I had to sequentially create 25 spherical images, much like a film frame-rate, in order for a “blue line” trajectory to be published. Whilst I’m not interested in describing the technical process of manually creating spherical images, I will note that I’ve shot all of these images myself using a tripod and timer, and that there is a significant amount of post-processing involved. Since creating my first online image sequence down a single street of the Navy Yard, an entire story has unfolded over the territory. In two years I’ve posted over 3000 Image-spheres, whilst anonymously receiving millions of views. Throughout this essay I will speak about a few of the works currently existing on Street View, their connections over the territory as a whole, and the symbolism within the work I’ve attempted to convey. As both a stop-motion project, and a net-art project I first want to define the term “Image-sphere” and the connotations of spherical media in relation to mapping.
The Image-sphere is a distinct kind of digital photographic imaging that characterizes an image-based virtual reality. Slipping through the cracks of proper categorization, 360º photography, or spherical photography, is both a photograph and virtual reality space unlike VR gaming environments or panoramic images with similar aesthetics. Opposed to other forms of virtual reality, 360º photography is closely related to cartography in that it is processed as a flat, equirectangular image, with the ability to spherically wrap around the viewer when experienced in a VR headset. Although within a Street View context a browser window is the preferred mode of viewing, the connotations of inhabiting an image (rather than framing it) have been especially important to developing this project, as well as further understanding the image itself as a closed-system ecology — in this sense I mean the image as a planetary structure. Simply, a photographic-VR-environment, contrary to alternative virtual reality media, is representative of a physical place, and therefore tied to geographical perception, and map projections. In relation to my character within this experimental stop-motion film, occupation, both in terms of work and territory, are simultaneously questioned. Lastly, the Image-sphere is naturally related to stop-motion in the sense that the user is anchored to the nadir-center of a seamless spherical image depicting spatial depth, whilst only being able to click-forward into the next image in a sequential constellation. Contrary to a VR-gaming-architecture one moves fluidly through, the Image-sphere, or the medium of Google Street View itself, is a unique vehicle for cinema.
I’ve always loved the films of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, so naturally when creating a stop-motion work about a laborer attempting to escape his own conditions I’ve been drawn to comedic performances. Similarly, within the context of Google Street View, there tends to be a cult following in finding unusual Street View images, and so I’ve also found inspiration through dropping clues to my work in the form of notes, and digital assets. My character’s user-name is “Loosii Ninjas”, and they’ve escaped a commercial print facility only to find they’re stuck in a virtual architecture. The name comes from a scrambled pseudonym for my actual name, and relates to a worker being scrambled through an algorithm. Dressed in worker-overalls, Loosii traverses the territory of the Navy Yard performing different metaphorical ideas for escape, and capture. Most of the trajectories exist over 25 different spherical images connected to each other, however, some can be longer, or connect in different directions. That being said, there’s not a set way for a viewer to interact with this project, and so the narrative can unfold unexpectedly. Part of what’s been exciting for me in developing a narrative format, is that mapping-orientation
can be used to define a story’s direction. I see this as an intertwined plot that sits between a “choose your own adventure” story, and emergent gaming experiences. Whilst, most of the works follow a set path, my later developments have experimented with different modes of interaction.
“Stealing the Sky” is the first performance I created on Street View. It depicts the laborer (Loosii) running down the street with what appears to be a piece of the sky, whilst periodically looking back as if he’s running from the viewer. “Stealing the sky” has a double meaning in this context, because the sky is actually a piece of printed material appropriated from the print facility, and also meant to symbolize a form of data that the image is composed of. Here, the laborer is attempting to escape with a souvenir of sorts, as the viewer is led to click forward. In many ways this work points to the overarching reality of Street View as a surveillance technology. Both ideas of “the sky” being proposed here function as simultaneous forms of capital Loosii is caught between — one is material capital, and the other is data, whilst each of these form a revenue outside of the worker’s labor. The sequence ends with the sky being abandoned as a failed escape attempt, and Loosii disappearing from the image altogether. If the user continues on this path they will enter a snow storm (winter storm Jonas) photographed in 2020. I was compelled to photograph a snow storm because I hadn’t felt like I’d ever seen a snowfall on Google Street View. The symbolism about this work is that the sky has “exploded” and therefore, weather acts as the performer. I also consider parts of the Navy Yard where I’m not performing as “intermissions” to the work as a whole. In some cases one may find a note written on a yellow piece of paper stating “intermission”, which has been a signature of my character.
Throughout the Navy Yard there are about 20 to 25 different trajectories that connect different elements of this story. In one direction a viewer may see Loosii Ninjas surfing on a print-media-tube he’s escaped with from the print facility. In others, one may stumble upon him pushing an entire still-life down the street. All together these gestures are meant to change the context of the tools typically used in the print and photography environments they come from, and in doing so, animate the mundane industrial space of the Navy Yard. In terms of the piece “Still-Life Escape” as I call it, the white backdrop used for commercial photography becomes the vehicle for performance. What has most excited me about these kinds of interventions is that the space itself feels like a film set. During most of 2020 when I shot this work, I had the space to myself, whilst only periodically having to explain what I was doing to a security guard passing by — it’s not illegal to photograph in the Navy Yard. However, utilizing the technology of Google Maps for my personal interests, I’ve come to straddle two positions of agency — I am an artist who is both acting with and against Street View. Simultaneously, I’m functioning symbiotically with Street View to capture uncharted territory, and without specific permission within private/public space as Google always has. Since I am the first person to capture this space I hold a form of ownership that in some ways subverts the purpose of Street View — my Image-sphere’s are works that I’ve archived, and hold intellectual property over. It may be fair to say that within the comedic actions of my character, the meaning of the work may lean towards image rights over virtual territories. However, that may be an adventure the viewer needs to discover themselves.
This could be a good place to start: https://goo.gl/maps/6QYMWEZUCJjRrBd76
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