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September 19, 2005

Digital Derive & Redefining the Basemap


Basemaps as Sites for Reinvention

Kazys Varnelis from the Annenberg's Networked Publics research lab forwarded me this link that he's found on Archinect. The Digital Derive project will be shown at the M-City exhibition (curator: Marco De Michelis) in Kunsthaus Graz, Oct 01, 2005 - Jan 08, 2006.

"Digital Derive harnesses the potential of mobile phones as an affordable, ready-made and ubiquitous medium that allows the city to be sensed and displayed in real-time as a complex, pulsating entity... Digital Derive (re)presents the city displayed simultaneously in the Kunsthaus Graz and in a publicly accessible website... The Real-Time City Map will register and visually render the volume and geographic source of cell phone usage in Graz, thus showing a different layer in the use and experience of the city. Furthermore the users of A1 Mobilkom Austria in Graz will be tracked anonymously by 'pinging' their cell phones as they move through the city. The record of this movement will be collected, processed and finally displayed as set of dynamic traces showing their paths through the city on the same map..."

The rendering of the peaks & valleys of cell phone usage here is reminscent of some oceanographic map of a deep sea trench, as if the city were drowned in a tsunami of spectrum (immersive media?).

As astonishing as this image is, the Digital Derive project arguably reproduces a static notion of urban space by using a conventional GIS overlay aesthetic. As Ali Sant notes in a text she has written about her Trace project, a collaboration with Ryan Shaw, entitled Redefining the Basemap:

"Current collaborative mapping projects using locative media technologies have often overlooked the conventions of the basemap as a site for reinvention. Although these projects imagine alternative organizations of urban space through the way it is digitally mapped, they remain bounded by datasets that reinforce a Cartesian and static notion of urban space."

Thus reading the Digital Derive through Ali, perhaps the next big step for locative projects interested in mapping how a space is actually practiced will be to deform the base map into a kind of cartogram of cell usage.

Here I consider those famous purple maps of the last US election as deeply inspirational. [blogged by marc tuters on USC Interactive Media] [Related]

Posted by jo at September 19, 2005 12:23 PM