[iDC] Re: Interactive City: irrelevant mobile entertainment?

Mark Shepard mshepard at andinc.org
Thu Aug 17 16:22:41 EDT 2006

Hi there,

It's encouraging to find such an outpouring of interest and critique  
on the subject of locative media and its relation to pyschogeography,  
mapping and urban play. While we had originally planned on addressing  
many of these issues in September as part of the Architecture and  
Situated Technologies thread, I think the current discussion provides  
an opening to address how an evaluation of certain locative media  
practices (and their failures) might provide a "sandbox" for thinking  
through the opportunities and dilemmas of a near-future world of  
networked "things". From locative media to atoms, bits and ubiquity.

As someone whose interest in the Situationists predates my work in  
new media, I have long felt uncomfortable with media art practices  
that claim or aspire to transpose concepts of pyschogeography and  
tactics of the dérive or detournment to contemporary urban  
environments. It is critical to remember that the dérive emerged in a  
specific historical context, one that I would argue no longer holds.  
In part a response to 20th century urban planning strategies promoted  
by modern architects associated with CIAM (Congrès International  
d'Architecture Moderne), the dérive sought to reclaim a space for the  
creative capacities of an imaginative subject in face of an onslaught  
of the functional rationalization of modern capitalism. CIAM's  
strategies aimed to reorganize the city - perceived as an ailing  
beast in need of a cure - through a strict functional segregation of  
dwelling, work and recreation (leisure) zones connected by  
rationalized transportation corridors. Citing a 1952 study by  
Parisian sociologist Chombart de Lauwe that mapped the movements made  
in the space of one year by a student living in the 16th  
Arrondissement, Debord expresses outrage that her itinerary "forms a  
small triangle with no significant deviations, the three apexes of  
which are the School of Political Sciences, her residence and that of  
her piano teacher." [1] To a certain extent, the dérive was conceived  
to explicitly counteract this rationalization of patterns of movement  
through the city and the corresponding limitations imposed on the  
diversity, messiness, and richness of urban life. Understood as a  
form of ludic play, the expressed aim was to free people from "their  
relations, their work and
leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement  
and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the  
terrain and the encounters they find there." With regard to  
kanarinka's comment about the gentleman invited to drift with them  
who "summed it up nicely" by saying "Sorry, I can't go with you. I  
have to work here until 8PM and then I have to go to my other job," I  
would argue that it is precisely this mentality that the dérive  
sought to address.

In evaluating locative media projects claiming or aspiring to a  
Situationist agenda, I often find myself questioning to what extent  
their deployment of mobile technologies ends up actually reifying  
this rationalization of patterns of use or movement. Put another way,  
to what extent do conventions for the use of consumer mobile  
technologies actually contribute to CIAM's agenda in their  
codification of modes of interaction with and within the contemporary  
city? Perhaps the most pertinent question for locative media might  
be: how might these technologies be (mis)used in an attempt to  
counteract (rather than reinforce) an ongoing rationalization and  
commodification of urban life? It would seem less a question of  
"locating" oneself, perhaps more one of getting lost...

Brian Holmes' critique of locative media [2] focused on a perceived  
noncritical ("naive") adoption of GPS technologies and Cartesian  
mapping systems in the context of Situationist aesthetics.  
Specifically, Holmes attacks the non-reflexive use of technologies  
developed by the military and their domestication in the context of  
scenarios of play, where aesthetics becomes politics as decor. This  
critique was originally delivered at a workshop held at the RIXC  
center in Latvia in 2003. Since then the field has expanded  
significantly, and while early locative media projects may have  
relied heavily on these technologies, it would be difficult to  
identify locative media exclusively with either GPS or Cartesian  
mapping today. At the same time, some contemporary projects built on  
GPS are far more reflective of the dark side of locative media. [3]   
This is not to say Holmes' critique no longer holds. Quite the  
contrary, as it would seem it has been in many cases internalized by  
the field. While this year's ISEA / ZeroOne San Jose symposium and  
exhibition presented a few GPS-based locative media projects, they  
were by no means the majority. Drew Hemmet et. al.'s LOCA project is  
one example of a "pervasive surveillance project" aimed at raising  
public awareness of how certain consumer technologies (bluetooth in  
this case) enable tracking in ever more subtle ways. [4]  Alison  
Sant's paper "Redefining the Basemap" [5] addressed the fact that  
many locative media projects still "remain bounded by datasets that  
reinforce a Cartesian and static notion of urban space" and made a  
call for alternative methods of mapping the city, particularly ones  
addressing the temporal dimension of urban experience.

The critique of GPS and Cartesian mapping systems is by no means new.  
Laura Kurgan's exhibit "You Are Here: Museu" (1995) [6], addressed  
the uncertainties that arise when relying on satellite tracking  
systems to know "where we are." Architect Stefano Boeri's essay  
"Eclectic Atlases" (1997) [7] addresses the failure of satellite  
imagery to adequately represent the contemporary metropolis and calls  
for alternate methods for mapping the city as experienced "on the  
ground."  The exhibition and catalogue for "The Power of the City:  
The City of Power" (Whitney Museum of American Art, 1992) [8]  
explores alternative mapping practices of conceptual and performance  
art from the 60s and 70s in terms their relation to Baudelaire's  
Flaneur, Jameson's notion of cognitive mapping, and (then)  
contemporary readings of Situationist aesthetics. Kevin Lynch, in his  
oft cited treatise "The Image of the City" [10], acknowledged that  
the emotional dimension(s) of his cognitive maps were beyond the  
reach of his research methods. More recently Marina Zurkow, Scott  
Patterson and Julian Bleecker's "PDPal" (2003) [9]  asks what might  
an "emotional" GPS look like?

Perhaps the most interesting take on the relevance of locative media  
today is that of Marc Tuters and Kazys Varnelis as expressed in their  
essay "Beyond Locative Media," published by Leonardo in conjunction  
with the Pacific Rim Summit [11]. Acknowledging that locative media  
has been attacked for its ambivalence with regard to commercial  
interests and its reliance on Cartesian mapping systems, they find  
these critiques nostalgic, "invoking a notion of art as autonomous  
from the circuits of mass communication technologies", which they  
argue no longer holds. Moreover, they make the case for locative  
media as a "conceptual framework by which to examine the certain  
technological assemblages and their potential social impacts. Unlike  
net art, produced by a priestly technological class for an elite arts  
audience, locative media strives, at least rhetorically, to reach a  
mass audience by attempting to engage consumer technologies, and  
redirect their power." At the dawn of an age where ubiquitous  
networked objects outnumber humans as generators and receivers of  
information, this effort is more important than ever.


[1]	Guy Debord. "Theory of the Derive" - http:// 

[2]	Brian Holmes. "Drifting Through the Grid: Psychogeography and  
Imperial Infrastructure" - http://www.springerin.at/dyn/heft_text.php? 

[3]	See the Institute for Applied Autonomy's "i-SEE - Now More than  
Ever" - http://www.appliedautonomy.com/isee.html or Annina Ruest's  
"Track the Trackers" -  http://www.t-t-trackers.net/

[4]	LOCA - http://www.loca-lab.org/

[5]	Allison Sant. "Redefining the Basemap" - http:// 

[6]	Laura Kurgan. "You Are Here: Museu" - http://www.l00k.org/ 

[7]	Stefano Boeri. "Eclectic Atlases" in The Cybercities Reader (NY:  
Routledge, 2003)

[8]	Cristel Hollevoet, Karen Jones, Timothy Nye. "The Power of the  
City: The City of Power (NY: The Whitney Museum of American Art, 1992)

[9]	Marina Zurkow, Scott Patterson and Julian Bleecker. "PDPal" -  

[10]	Kevin Lynch. "The Image of the City" (MIT, 1960)

[11]	Marc Tuters and Kazys Varnelis. "Beyond Locative Media" - http:// 

mark shepard

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