The Earth Is an Image is a web-based work created by artist and engineer Xin Liu exploring the orbital coverage of artificial satellites that are used for geo-imaging, weather forecasting, and related technologies. Proposing a post-anthropocentric view, Liu tunes into the minds of several satellites that have been abandoned in orbit at the end of their missions.
An antenna installed in Hong Kong captures the radio signals of three retired satellites that pass over the city approximately four times a day. Despite becoming obsolete two decades ago, these satellites are still dutifully orbiting and transmitting data back to Earth. The satellites’ FM radio signals and climate images are converted into an audiovisual experience of rhythmic sounds, ethereal cloud-forms, and glitchy echoes that are live-streamed online. Alongside this digital composition, a dialogue unfolds between a satellite and someone on the ground, telling the story of orbiting metal bodies that are stranded eight hundred kilometres from Earth. When the satellites are outside the antenna’s reception zone, The Earth is an Image tracks their movements and displays their altitudes and coordinates.
In a poetic enquiry into the lifespan of satellites, Liu not only examines advances in satellite broadcasting, but also provides an alternative experience of distance and space, illustrating the complex relationship between human and non-human life forms.
Artist: Xin Liu
Visual Design: Yidong Cai
Website: Qianlin, Che-yu Wu, Power Nap Studio
Hardware: Gershon Dublon, slow immediate LLC
Project Assistant: Yuhan Song
Special thanks to The Hong Kong Amateur Radio Transmitting Society for their contribution to the installation and maintenance of the antenna.
Explore the work
Science-fiction novelist Chen Qiufan wrote Sounds of the Universe, a short story inspired by Liu Xin’s poetic exploration of technology, space, and humanity in The Earth Is an Image.
Read the written response
Kate Gu, Producer for Digital Special Projects, spoke with Liu Xin about the project, her thoughts on art and technology, and the reasons why an artist would venture into outer space.
Read the interview with Xin Liu
About the artist
Xin Liu is an artist and engineer who takes a post-metaphysical approach to explore the personal, social, and technological spaces in our world. Her most recent work centres on the verticality of space, extraterrestrial explorations, and cosmic metabolism. Liu received her MA from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, her MFA from Rhode Island School of Design, and BE from Tsinghua University in Beijing. She is currently the Arts Curator for the Space Exploration Initiative in MIT Media Lab and an artist-in-residence at the SETI Institute in Silicon Valley. Her numerous awards and fellowships include the X Museum Triennial Award, the Van Lier Fellowship, and the Sundance New Frontier Story Lab fellowship.
About digital commissions at M+
The Earth Is an Image is the fourth work in M+’s series of digital commissions, which was launched in 2018. M+ is committed to providing platforms for projects by creative practitioners who propose new frameworks and discussions for visual culture. The series addresses aspects of digital culture today, pointing to new, pressing lines of enquiry. The experimental, browser-based works explore the intersection of visual culture and technology, encompassing data visualisation, interactive design, gamification, and creative technology.