A flying carpet view of the world in Cork exhibition

By Marjorie Brennan

Artist David Thomas Smith's latest collection addresses visual overload in the information age.

The information age means that we are subjected to visual overload, a theme addressed by artist David Thomas Smith in his collection, Anthropocene.

It features pieces composited from thousands of digital files drawn from internet satellite images. The striking work, which forms part of the Sustainable Futures project at the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh, Co Cork, features locations such as Canada’s largest coal port and the world’s biggest goldmine, and other sites which have dramatically impacted on the environment.

“There is an environmental aspect to it but I’m also interested in the idea that today we are increasingly swamped by images. If you want an image of something, chances are it already exists,” says Smith.

Images by David Thomas Smith at the exhibition at Sirius in Cobh

“It is interesting to me that now we have these vast archives of uncontextualised imagery, that you can take something out of and apply your own meaning to. I was interested in places that have made an impact on the planet or changed it in some fundamental way. For example, the Three Gorges Dam in China — nearly a million people were displaced and several river valleys were flooded when it was constructed; or the Fimiston open mine in Australia, which can be seen from space.”

When it came to the visual style of the images, Smith was inspired by the patterns of Persian rugs and the work of Afghani weavers in recording their experience of war.

“Initially I wanted to create a spectacle, something that is visually engaging. I became interested in Afghan war rugs, which would have been made at the time the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. A lot of them depict tanks and bombs but it is in the pattern that we would recognise as a Persian rug.”

The patterned images are reminiscent of Rorschach diagrams, the symmetrical psychological test flashcards where the objects featured are in the eye of the beholder.

Dublin native Smith studied documentary photography at the University of Wales in Newport, where he became interested in the more conceptual side of the form.

David Thomas Smith

However, while exploring the more artistic applications of photography, for Smith, the story is still the most important thing.

“Anthropecene still has that documentary element, in that it’s about telling a story. It is about storytelling, it doesn’t really matter how the images get created, it is about giving them context.”

Smith used aerial and satellite images from Google Maps for the 12 images featured in Anthropecene. It was a time-consuming project, taking two years from concept to finish.

“ I would zoom in right down to street level if the quality would allow and screen grab each section of the street, compile them in a folder then rebuild it in photoshop like a jigsaw. Each one is probably a couple of thousand images.”

Smith hopes his images provoke audiences to consider the great speed at which the world is changing.

“In the last 100 years, we have changed the face of the earth more than all the natural processes have in the last hundreds of thousands of years. We need to take a step back to appreciate how fast we are going and how much we are changing the world… we have to be careful about how we use that power.”

Sustainable Futures is at Sirius Arts Centre, Cobh, until April 1

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