I’m on the mailing list of the Nasa Earth Observatory and get regular emails with links to satellite imagery. I noticed today that you can download a kml file to see the image in google earth. At last some weather in the all-seeing google imagery. Although there have always been places where this was true. I first noticed it in an area of Columbia when working with some GPS data created by artist Luis Sotelo. If you find areas of cloud on the google imagery in the UK you can zoom in right through them to clearer aerial photography images below. But in Columbia its cloud all the way down.
I had an interesting conversation with a Korean friend last week, she asked if in English I would say that a bird flies ‘in’ the sky or ‘on’ the sky. We discussed the differences in how language reflects different perceptions of the sky. Returning to google earth, the weather or more specifically clouds interrupt, obscure and disrupt the idea of clear vision and easy visual access. It returns the sky as a medium that reaches from the upper atmostphere down to the ground, that is active with clouds, rain, ice crystals, differences in air pressure, winds and cyclones. A skyscape full of weather that we live in (see Tim Ingold’s ‘The eye of the storm: visual perception and the weather’ Visual Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2, October 2005).
I first began thinking of the sky as a ‘site’ for artworks in the mid 2000’s. I learned to fly in a Cessna 150 as part of some research I was doing at the time about virtual and physical actions. While learning to fly VFR (Visual Flight Rules) meant that I was only allowed to fly when I had a clear sight of the ground. Clouds became objects to fly around, oncoming walls of danger making me turn back and land before they rolled over the airfield. Once with my instructor I flew through a tiny wisp of cloud, I was surprised at how visceral an experience it was almost like flying towards a brick wall and then finding that like a ghost I could pass right through it. For a second everything turned white and then we were out the other side. One of my strongest memories of flying was when the clouds were quite low – maybe at 1500 feet, and we were skimming along just underneath them as if they were a flat layer or ceiling. At other times the pockets of low pressure around clouds made flying like driving along a bumpy road, but with sudden losses of altitude that left your stomach a few feet above for a second. For me flying is always ‘in’ the sky, and the sky is an ever present mediation of environment.