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October 04, 2004



steps beyond the obvious

Esther Polak (Waag Society NL) and Leva Auzina (RIXC, LV) went some way towards rescuing landscape painting. They followed the driver of a milk truck through rural Latvia. He went through his daily routine of collecting up small amounts of milk from local people along a fixed route (in space and roughly in time). They traced the route using GPS units and software from the Realtime Amsterdam (and Riga) project. They took pictures, spoke to the people they met, and recorded interviews. In the end the GPS traces were inadequate. They had to sit down with the driver at the end of the journey with a map and pieces of paper and have him work through the broken traces with a pencil to produce a usable map of the route.

The result of the process was a very different view than photos, or interviews conventionaly produce. They had the drivers route, and maps, and time, and location to anchor point of view differently. They had misty pictures of people carrying milk churns through the countryside. But they also had a rich anchor for the systemic, subjective and spatial context; and more explicit than a literary or filmic narrative conventionally works with. The maps were generated by the people. Both implicitly, and explicitly as the man made sense of the journey he followed (six days a week) with a pencil, and a paper map, and GPS trace fragments.

The follow up thoughts were to trace the milk the next step of the way to the people who ended up drinking it (or consuming it processed into food). This opened up the idea of being able to trace what you consume or produce, right to producer or consumer. And further, open a dialogue between the participants in this cycle of production, distribution and consumption.

From an artists perspective it is now possible to (relatively easily) location stamp digital art work. The place where a work was made, or to which it refers can be logged using GPS for example. Work can be explicitly associated with a place digitally, and then 'found' according to spatial criteria: 'show me all the work associated with this place'. In mobile device terms, work can be accessed actually at a place predetermined by the artist or by the search criteria of the accessor.

How this is interpreted (conceptually and technologically) is up to artists, tool makers, and users.

Filmmakers for example can trace the spatial movements of the camera. Authors can place the next chapter at a new location. Musicians can spontaneously choose a location to perform and generate the audience through a combination of mapping and communications. Festivals, warehouse parties and rave variants have been working on these ideas for many years now, transforming dislocated spaces into gatherings though a disparate range of media.

In Karosta an audience of local people and workshop participants was led out in the dark through the woods to a clearing marked out by a circle of candles where Cheryl L'Hirondelle Waynohtêw was singing. Some way through, the audience (also singing) moved the circle of candles in closer, to make a smaller stage. The candles hinted at location aware, networked lights. You could have a lightweight portable stage that could be followed around, found and mapped on the net. Temporary, portable, visible (both visually and electronically), and findable architectural elements that would fit into a backpack.

Orientating usually requires a conversation with people who know where they are already. These conversations often serve to challenge the inhabitants of a place as to what their place means. Pete Gomes [Parkbench TV, UK] and Gabriel Lopez Shaw [US] found a group of local russian kids to show them around Karosta so that they could film. In the end the group made the film together. The kids found the locations, acted and improvised. Pete and Gabriel logged the locations and showed the kids filmmaking and GPS (the russian kids had long term access to film making and editing equipment through K@2 the Karosta based art project hosting the locative media workshop). Karosta is a very strange place, a borderland between cultures and times. The film explored Karosta in terms of dislocation and location, and its quality as a portal in time and space.

Inside K@2 Jo walsh sketched out an RDF schema for describing located media objects:

"We set out to develop a data structure for 'locative media'. This is partly a holding-place; an open standard format that can be simply re-purposed and re-represented. RDF was chosen because it allows metadata freedom; rather than the prescribed structure of a table with fixed relations to other tables, the underlying model is a graph of connections. 'database' carries the wrong connotations; this is more of a data model, a world model."

from Wilfried Hou Je Bek's database cartography; 'Mapping the patchwork of the street grid as a pattern of connections enables the cartographer to organize them in relativistic space.'

In this locative world model, the atomic unit could be the 'Packet'. A Packet is a state of affairs in space and time. Each Packet can be found at a unique URL on the web. the Packet is tagged with properties; these can be concrete, like latitude and longitude and timestamp, the packet's creator; or they can be abstract, descriptions of moments, feelings, smells. The 'tags' come from shared vocabularies which are published on the web." [see http://locative.x-i.net/karosta/]

All through the workshop participants and locals were focused out towards the surrounding area, trying to corrolate all media generated with location acquisition. Locals and artist going out would take a GPS and try and log location while taking film or photos or writing notes. Using the Waag society's realtime handheld tracking tools and the local GPRS network artists outside the K@2 center could be tracked and there journey traces visulised. Cheryl L'Hirondelle [CA] and Mari Keski-Korsu (FI) were monitored at K@2 after their trace went static for several hours (as they got more and more drunk on a beach with a couple of locals until one of their wives turned up).

Over the course of the workshop a whole sequence of journey traces was generated, enough to build up a subjective map of Karosta.

One night the workshop coordinator Mark Tuters [Locative, CA], with the Latvian electronic musician Voldomars Johansons [LV], and two of the RIXC staff went skinny dipping in the war harbour at 4am. Taking only themselves and a glow stick into the water they returned to find their clothes, and more importantly, the huge symbolic Jungian key to the K@2 centre, had disappeared. Marc turned up at the door with Voldomars behind him and red marks on his neck where one of his RIXC colleagues had tried to strangle him, still carrying the glow stick. Over the next few days all the clothes were found scattered imaginatively throughout the surrounding area.

One of the results of the workshop was a clearer understanding of the practical extant to which location adds a new dimension to media in social, artistic and technical terms. Locative media is a practice and it changes the way users relate to space and their work and each other.

Their were more theoretical aspects to the workshop. A number of the participants had backgrounds in radio.

A discussion between Zita Joyce and Adam Willetts [NL, NZ], radioqualia's Honor Harger and Adam Hyde [UK, NZ], and Ben Russell [Headmap, UK], focused on 'spectrum geography'.

Radio has always had an implicit and explicit connection with geography. For example the power and properties of a transmitter, determines the geographical region it can cover. Radio is a space altering technology, a property that can be articulated and used in many location and community related ways

The electromagnetic spectrum has a geography that can be mapped (see FCC frequency allocation tables), and that can be visualised spatially (see Fiona Raby's 'Flirt' and Anthony Dunne's book Herzian Tales)

Spectrum and space share the fact that they both seemed like finite resources. Now with advances in computing, one piece of spectrum can be divided up almost infinitely. Parallel advances in locative technologies mean that one piece of land can hold an infintite number of digitally mediated constructs and annotations.

Mobile phones which are essentially complexly networked walkie talkies, that use the landline marketing strategy. Instead of selling the open channel, you sell call time on a temporary connection. IP telephony (the word telephony encodes the marketing model) has no reason to follow this model, the infrastructure is already there, no additional exchange or network needs to be built. Open channels are as easy as finite, time limited (and costed) channels. Quake players for example use open channels, for no additional cost. The business model shapes the experience.

The sale of domain names, the primary method of taxing the internet, involves selling something which does not really have a value in the sense that domain names are only vaguely a finite resource and are just an entry in a database.

In the tracking industry there are also parallel examples. 'Geo fences', that is establishing an area and triggering an action if a tracked object enters or leaves that area, are already marketed and sold by some companies despite being a short entry in a database.

Marketers working on location awareness as a business model are going to be working to produce more examples of concrete sounding products which are actually trivial to activate, and involve no (or very little) effort to maintain once the structures are in place to run the larger system. Beyond artificial restrictive walls, marketing also has a simplifying and describing function.

Effective use of locative technologies requires hardware evolution. But also new metaphors that can underpin new interface concepts, that generate new ways of understanding and using the intersection of space, locative hardware and locative software.

Finding innovative uses for locative media probably involves using it for a while rather than endlessly trying to imagine the steps beyond the obvious.

Submitted by locative on Sun, 01/18/2004 - 02:18. Karosta

Posted by jo at October 4, 2004 07:21 PM