It’s easy to forget that Google Maps is so incredible. With a few taps, it’ll calculate the most efficient trip you can take just across town or all the way across the world. Walking, driving, traveling by plane, it’s no matter. Oh, and if you want to stop at a Starbucks on the way? Here are 500 of them.
Maps, by Kim Asendorf, creates almost the precise opposite effect. It’s a modification of the Google Maps API that, instead of delivering you a streamlined understanding of the world around you, twists the information into a colorful, randomized abstraction. So every time you head to the Maps site, you could start from anywhere, the ground could be fluorescent green or orange, and as for roads? Rivers? Maybe you’ll get them, maybe you won’t.
“I want the audience to discover,” Asendorf explains. “Start in an abstract detail and zoom into a strange but familiar structure. It should create a different focus than you normally have when you enter a map service.”
In part, the navigational holes in Maps are a result of Google’s own modification limits (there’s a natural cap that software will reach when attempting to re-render Google Maps’ code). But Maps is far from an innocent mistake on Asendorf’s part. He calls his technique “API abuse,” which is basically an act of digital civil disobedience. Asendorf takes the public data that a company provides, then distorts it into something that’s anticorporate, or at least absurdly outside the API’s intended use.
“How can you abuse a service and turn into something away from functionality?” Asendorf asks. “My maps are abstract paintings. Liquid crystal paintings.”
We see his work here in Maps, and you can also see another example of API abuse over on Flickr, where Asendorf uploaded as many color swatches as possible until Flickr canceled his Pro account. Much like graffiti allows street artists to reclaim brick-and-mortar buildings from commercial headspace, so, too, does work like Asendorf’s reclaim digital communications in the name of human screwing around.
And as more of our lives are lived in the digital realm–a space that is staked out by more and more powerful corporations–it’s hard to imagine a more apt platform for a bit of artistic protest.