Journey to the surface of the earth: The geoaesthetic trace and the production of alternative geographical knowledge

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Don Mitchell


Cultural landscape, Contemporary art, Visual culture, Alternative geographical knowledge, Gulf War, Laura Kurgan

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Geography | History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology | Social and Behavioral Sciences


This dissertation explores specific works of art created by three contemporary artists, finds in them a number of similarities which allow them to be grouped as a single phenomenon it names the geoaesthetic trace , interprets these works of art as interventions into the production of geographic knowledge, and argues there is something significant to be learned from recognizing this intervention and considering its implications. The geoaesthetic trace may be understood as a response to the representation of acts of war currently being produced and circulated through new visual image technologies. The three artists under investigation--Sophie Ristelhueber, Laura Kurgan and the art collective Bureau d'Études --see a significant problem in contemporary visual culture and seek ways to remedy it through their work. For them, advanced technological images of large scale acts of violence such as the Gulf War and the September 11 th attack on the World Trade Center play a role in furthering the very types of violence they depict. In particular, photographic aerial views of violent acts participate in a broad representational paradigm which structures and limits the act of viewing. These limits actively re-establish underlying cultural beliefs about history, culture and the inevitable necessity of war. By interviewing the artists at length, examining their written statements, exploring the critical background against which they work, and inspecting the geoaesthetic trace visually according to the methods of material culture theorist Jules Prown, this dissertation reveals the complex ways in which Ristelhueber, Kurgan and the Bureau d'Études attempt to disclose how recent images of war participate in the active production of a geographic knowledge that serves the manufacture of a public consent for war.


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