Av. Ramón Rayon / Ciudad Juárez/ Mexico
Satellite Image © Google Maps, 2014.
© GOOGLE Inc. 2014
We launched the project in 2012 under the working title Juárez Files. It was a case study of crime and violence, based solely on watching the reality of the Mexican border city Ciudad Juárez on Google Street View. We were wondering: to what extent do Google’s mapping services bear witness to the terror and social malaise that has been straining the Mexican megalopolis for decades? More generally, what does the “eye” of Google show (or hide?) of daily life in war zones or areas besieged by high levels of crime?
For many years, the Mexican border city was topping the charts of the world’s most dangerous places. Peaks of violence occurred around 2009, with over 2,000 (mostly drug-related, execution-style) murders; that was precisely the year during which Google captured most of the Street Views that have been online until quite recently. Ciudad Juárez has been notorious above all for a terrible criminal case (unsolved and largely unexplained to this day), the so-called feminicidio. Since the 1990s, hundreds of women, have been – and possibly continue to be – murdered by one or, more plausibly, several serial killers.
Are there traces visible of these atrocities inside the GSV space? With this question in mind, we patrolled the city on our computers. We scrutinized almost every street, from the center to the most remote neighbourhoods, which are scattered far out into the desert. Unsurprisingly, Google testifies to the roughness for which the city is renowned: burnt-out houses, military roadblocks in the urban center, car wrecks obstructing street junctions, decomposing animal carcasses rotting on sidewalks, blood stains on the asphalt, great poverty, prostitution… Between 2012 and 2015, I gathered an atlas of several hundreds of GSV screenshots that seem to document, in a more or less direct fashion, the violence that reigns in Ciudad Juárez.
From the outset, however, our archive was forced to go underground. These images of the world, even though freely and universally accessible online, are protected by copyright, and thus their use is prohibited outside the GSV platform. This is especially true when a great quantity of images is compiled, as is the case in this work.
Given this legal paradox (images that are freely accessible but whose diffusion is not authorized), how should one react when one encounters problematic images on GSV? During our virtual visit of Ciudad Juárez, one image particularly intrigued us: it appeared to show a female corpse lying under a white plastic tarpaulin, on a stretch of road at the edge of the desert. Was this image real or imagined? Was it even plausible? And to what extent was our perception fed by what we knew (or thought we knew) about the world’s alleged murder capital?
404 Not Found is about finding ways to speak about these images without infringing on Google's copyright. One strategy is to "write" the images. This is what the Navigation Poems are about. They are based on a rigorous observation of the harsh reality of Ciudad Juárez as shown by Google Street View – a sort of “forensic poetry”.
404 Not Found was produced with the curatorial guidance and financial support of Centre National de l'Audiovisuel, Luxembourg, 2016. Curator, Michèle Walerich, CNA.
The installation entered the MUDAM (Luxembourg) collection in 2017.
It has also been shown at Benaki Museum during the Athens Photo Festival (Still Searching) and at MUSA Vienna (Looking for the Clouds. Contemporary Photography in Times of Conflict) in 2017.
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The screenshots documenting the violence of Ciudad Juárez (the so-called Juárez Files) are to be concealed In the drawers of a cabinet archive. A photographic monograph containing those same images is to be enclosed in a glass display. It is not accessible to the public. The poetry books (Navigation poems) should be presented on shelves. They can be accessed by the public. The poems can also be shown on a large-sized LED Display, echoing with the seemingly boundless advertising space of the Google corporation.
404 Not Found
Methodology: GEOINT, forensic poetry
Concept and Installation © Carine and Elisabeth KRECKE, 2016
Navigation poems, by Carine Krecké © Gwinzegal, France, 2016
Photos of exhibition at CNA © Romain Girtgen / CNA, 2016
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