Google executive on 'infinitesimalness' and the arts

By Chaitanya Chunduri , Google, Mumbai | In Digital | February 10, 2017
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A Guest Article by Google India's Chaitanya Chunduri.

There's a strange phenomenon that happens to astronauts when they see Earth from space. Most astronauts describe this as a cognitive shift in awareness, a state of mental clarity or a sense of deep connection.

Chaitanya Chunduri

This state called the "overview effect," occurs when you are flung so far away from Earth that you become totally overwhelmed and awed by the fragility and unity of life on our planet. It's the uncanny sense of understanding the 'big picture' and a humbling appreciation of our infinitesimalness in comparison - all at the same time.

Recently, two creative technologists have created an oddly mesmerizing website that provides something approximating the 'Overview Effect' for the rest of us.

Check it out at astronaut.io

Andrew Wong and James Thompson created an algorithm that seeks videos fitting specific criteria: uploaded within the past week, with generic file names (IMG, MOV, WMV) as titles, and zero views. And juxtaposed this seemingly endless stream of random videos against a view of our planet from low Earth orbit. (source)

The result is a fascinating glimpse at the mundane, perplexing, and oftentimes sweet events of everyday life juxtaposed against the monumental, mystical and often times sublime views of the planet Earth.

The insight here could be about the possibilities that can be achieved w.r.t driving a shift in the viewers' perspective when an object is made to interact with a meta object. For example, what if a character in a story interacts with someone that typically exists in a dimension higher to that of the character, like the author?

Let's take two examples.

The Gunfighter

Think of an actor in a film as an object.

Now think of the narrator of this film. A narrator is conceptually meant to be at a degree higher in dimension or abstraction versus an actor in that film, in order for him to be able to narrate the story to us. Right?

But what if the actor in the film is made to interact with its narrator?

The result? See it for yourself here. The Gunfighter

Directed by Eric Kissack, The Gunfighter has won several awards across categories like best narrative, best short film, best comedy, etc. and was the official selection for various film festivals.

Old Mout Cider even commissioned him to shoot a film with the same narrative device for their ad. (see here)

The Museum's Ghosts

This eponymous photography project by Andrés Wertheim is an experiment on similar lines.

Photograph from The Museum's Ghosts - Andres Wertheim - Source - www.andreswertheim.com

The premise as stated by Andrés Wertheim is simple.

It is assumed that when people go to a museum, they carefully observe the paintings and sculptures and thoroughly read the explanatory panels.

But what if the characters portrayed in nearby paintings looked upon visitors while they aren't paying attention, what unusual scenes would we find?

Through double exposures made in camera, Andrés Wertheim merged in a single photo frame, both planes of the visible reality - the audience in a museum's room and the portrayed characters on the same room's walls - trying to create a dialogue between them.

The Museum's Ghosts as a photography project, has also been featured in National Geographic for its creation of such surreal scenes that place art and its observers together in a new imagined dimension.

The bottomline

Whether it's art walking off the walls to interact with the visitors of a museum, or the characters in a film being able to interact with its' narrator, or a micro level human narrative getting juxtaposed against the macro level perspective of planet Earth, they all have one thing in common.

They are all examples of objects interacting with meta objects, compelling us to re-evaluate and reconsider our perspectives of the world within and around us - perhaps just like in the 'Overview Effect' as experienced by a space walker when looking back at our planet earth.

(The author is principal account manager, FMCG vertical, Google India. He blogs at brandednoise.com).

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