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October 12, 2005

Locative Space:

Situated and Interconnected

Locative media refers to a mobile media movement in which location and time are considered essential to the work. As locative blogger extraordinaire Thomas Angermann of Angermann2 say in response to a post to Mapping Hacks by Schuyler Earle, "at one level, thinking ‘locative’ means doing geo stuff without actually having learned the traditional geo toolsets [read, geographic information systems (GIS), ED]".


From a term proposed originally at an obscure workshop in the Baltic several years ago locative media now gets 220,000 hits currently on Google. On any given day a steady stream of locative projects are documented in blogs such as Networked Performance and We Make Money Not Art. Critical theory has however come out against locative media.

In his "Drifting Through the Grid: Psychogeography and Imperial Infrastructure" published in Springerin, Brain Holmes' advocates "conceiv[ing of] the worldwide communications technologies as Imperial infrastructure". According to Holmes, since GPS satellites are controlled by the US Army, "when you use locating device...: you are interpellated into Imperial ideology." While traditionally maps may have been a a form of visual knowledge generated by and for Imperial ideology, new practices of information technology begin to open up the practice of mapping to civic society. A great number of projects beyond locative media are working to Make Things Public. The idea here has to do with making the flows of Networked Society visible and transparent.

Perhaps the locative project par excellence is MILK, winner of this year's Golden Nica at Ars Electronica. With MILK, the artists, Esther Polak and Ieva Auzina, used GPS traceroutes to create a form of landscape art for network society. MILK is based in part on a project by Polak and the Waag Society, "Real Time Amsterdam" in which Amsterdam bicyclists created a map of city's bizarre traffic routes by the sedimentation of their GPS transponders over a period of weeks. Polak's latest work connects Manuel Castells's "space of flows" with his "space of place" by tracing the path of an agricultural product, in this case milk, from its origins in rural Latvia to a cheese vendor in the Netherlands.


MILK suggests a powerful vision of locative technologies which allow one to trace the origins of foodstuffs—a much sought after ideal in this era of global mega-viruses—thereby making visible the networked society. I believe it was this reading of MILK that drew Bruno Latour to include the project in his ZKM exhibition "Making Things Public."

To be fair, the MILK project's artists are not interested in Latour's reading, seeing their work more as a form of romantic landscape art, indeed when making the project they came to a fork in the route that led in one direction to McDonalds and in the other to the Dutch cheese show, they chose the former. Nevertheless, Latour's reading is the one that interests me here and I am looking at MILK's as emblematic of that condition, regardless of the project's intent.


A different project at Latour's exhibition, Issue Crawler, suggests to me another dimension by which we could map the Network Society more effectively. Issue Crawler maps of the hyperlink structure around debates on the Internet, allowing us to see all of the actors in a particular network and how they relate to one another, much as in a Mark Lombardi drawing. This potential project would, then, combine Issue Crawler's situational analysis with the locative analysis of MILK. Where MILK suggest a notion of space from here to there, Issue Crawler develops a more relative notion of location in reference to. To really determine one's "locativity" it would surely be necessary to consult both of these perspectives.

In a CTheory article entitled "Operational Media", Jordan Crandall speaks of the "resurgence of temporal and locational specificity witnessed in new surveillance and location-aware navigational technologies". The Minority Report vision of the future, of which we are constantly reminded by MIT is suppoised to be one of smart objects with IP addresses communicating with us, with one another. and with "everyone else". Here the question of location becomes crucial. My tracklog and my social network amount to a marketer's dream. To know where I am, is to know how to sell [to] me. This has led critics like Holmes and Crandall, to accuse locative media of being, in, another critic, Andreas Broekman's terms , the avant garde of the Control Society.


In Giles Deleuze's Society of Control thesis (L'autre journal, Nr. I, Mai 1990), "[w]e are in a generalized crisis in relation to all the environments of enclosure." Deleuze states "Enclosures are molds, distinct castings, but controls are a modulation... that will continuously change from one moment to the other". For Deleuze "The family, the school, the army, the factory are no longer the distinct analogical spaces...". "[E]veryone knows that these institutions are finished..." states Deleuze "it's only a matter of administering their last rites...". According to Crandall, locative media is implicit in a "machine-aided process of disciplinary attentiveness, embodied in practice, that is bound up within the demands of a new production and security regime." Yet, as Deleuze states, "there is no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons".

According to Bruno Latour: ""Things" are controversial assemblages of entangled issues, and not simply objects sitting apart from our political passions. The entanglements of things and politics engage activists, artists, politicians, and intellectuals. To assemble this parliament, rhetoric is not enough and nor is eloquence; it requires the use of all the technologies -- especially information technology -- and the possibility for the arts to re-present anew what are the common stakes." As a locative artist, I envision a practice of networked technologies that might convert Crandall's "machine-aided process of disciplinary attentiveness" into new civilian tactics. [blogged by Marc Tuters on netPublics]

Posted by jo at October 12, 2005 11:46 AM