World GIS Day
This lecture will discuss the interplay between cartography, spatial datasets, and the conceptual underpinnings of citizenship at a global scale through two intertwined projects—In Plain Sight (2018) and my current book project, High Contrast.
“In Plain Sight” is a data documentary originally commissioned for the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, exploring geospatial narratives by juxtaposing the ‘Black Marble’—NASA’s nighttime earth imagery—with the CEISEN’s gridded population of the world (GPW) dataset. The installation explored the assumptions underpinning demographic models and offers an alternative lens to view global citizenship.
Building on this exploration, “High Contrast” scrutinizes the prehistory of spatial datasets, particularly the evolution of false color aerial photography during the Cold War. By employing archival research and novel data analysis methods, this work provides a designer’s perspective on spatial data’s role in shaping current understandings of landscapes and geopolitical territories. Emphasizing the military’s use of vegetation as a form of geospatial intelligence, the lecture will discuss how early Cold War ecologists and botanists employed ‘PhotoBotany’ to infer terrain conditions for strategic military purposes, setting a foundation for the development of remote sensing and data science.
Through these projects, the lecture argues for a design-driven historical understanding of data science, asserting that the techniques and materials inherent to the landscape discipline have been instrumental in shaping contemporary technologies. By articulating the design history embedded within spatial datasets and visualization techniques, this talk seeks to position designers not just as users, but as contributors to the critical discourse on data’s cultural and spatial dimensions.
Robert Gerard Pietrusko is a cartographer and composer based in Brooklyn, NY. His research focuses on the history and speculative design potential of environmental media. His design work is part of the permanent collection of the Foundation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris and has been exhibited in more than 15 countries at venues such The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Centre Pompidou, ZKM Center for Art & Media, and the Venice Architecture Biennale, among others. Recently, Pietrusko was awarded the 2021 Rome Prize for landscape architecture, and was the 2019 Wilder Green Architecture Fellow at the MacDowell Colony. Pietrusko is currently an associate professor of landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania.