Laura Kurgan is Associate Professor of Architecture at Columbia University in New York, where she is Director of the Spatial Information Design Lab (SIDL).
A map, by formal definition, is a diagrammatic representation of an area of land or sea showing physical features, cities, roads, et cetera. Kurgan and her Design Lab usually map those kinds of things that fall under the ‘et cetera’ category.
Since 2004, when the lab first saw the light of day, they have completed dozens of projects — from mapping Foursquare and Facebook data to understand how social media users explore the city, to mapping city-prison-city-prison migration flows to point out that the government spends more than one million dollars to incarcerate prisoners who live within a single census block.
“We see our task as converting information that is otherwise dormant, invisible, or simply incomprehensible into images and arguments that provide grounds for research, discovery, and action”, says Kurgan.
Close Up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology and Politics is Kurgan’s latest project. “The maps in this book are drawn with satellites, assembled with pixels radioed from outer space, and constructed from statistics; they record situations of intense conflict and express fundamental transformations in our ways of seeing and of experiencing space.” In the publication, Kurgan digitally visits places like Kuwait and Kosovo, while she touches upon topics like mass graves, incarceration patterns, disappearing forests, and currency flows.